“Ask a Priest: Should We Not Judge at All?”

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Q: It says, “Judge not, so that you may not be judged.” Does that mean we are not to judge at all? Or does that mean that we can judge when we are perfect and without sin, and that way we can judge our neighbor so that it’s sound judgment? Is there a negative connotation to judging here, and is discernment the more positive way? – L.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Jesus in that passage (see Matthew 7:1) means that we shouldn’t try to judge the state of other people’s souls or intentions. God alone knows the heart and mind of each person.

We can, of course, speak up when we see an injustice being done. We can protest abortion or the neglect of the poor, for instance. This is something of a duty for us.

We can even exercise fraternal charity by pointing out another person’s faults to him. But this needs to be done in a spirit of charity and humility. And we shouldn’t feel as though we have to do it in every case.

If our brother seems to be drinking too much, we should say something. The same obligation, however, doesn’t apply if we find out that the neighbor down the street seems to be drinking excessively (unless he is endangering the neighborhood, but that’s another case).

Here, we have to use prudence. We aren’t called to police the world.

A good principle to remember is “Hate sin, love the sinner.”

We also need to be careful if we find that our attention is focused on the faults of others — this might indicate that we aren’t attentive enough to our own faults.

Few of us will ever arrive to the point in this world where we are perfect and without sin. Most of us would do well to heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:3 — “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?”

However, if you feel as though you do need to point out someone’s fault, it might be good to pray about it first. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and to open the heart of the other person. For any lasting improvement in someone’s behavior requires the working of the Holy Spirit.

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