“Those who judge are always wrong, because they put themselves in the place of God, the only judge”, Pope Francis has insisted in the preface to a new book – Before you judge, think! – by Italian psychotherapist Salvo Noè, the brains behind the sign the Pope put up on the door to his room in his residence in the Vatican, the Casa Santa Marta: “Complaining Forbidden”.
Full text of the Pope’s preface
Dr. Salvo Noè offers us in this book many points of reflection on how judgment can affect our lives and create a climate of distrust and conflict. Jesus tells his disciples not to judge. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6:37). Is it possible to put these gospel words into practice? On the other hand, is it not necessary to judge if we do not want to surrender to what is wrong? But Jesus’ call has been deeply engraved in our hearts.
The apostles St. James and St. Paul, so different from each other, refer to judgments with almost the same words. James writes: “So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?” (Jas 4:12). And Saint Paul asks: “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” (Rom 14,4). Questions that concern everyday life. If Jesus’ disciples choose to love, they still make mistakes with consequences more or less serious.
Their spontaneous reaction is also based on judging those who – due to their negligence, weakness or forgetfulness – cause errors or failures. In two circumstances Jesus speaks of the “unhealthy” or “envious” eye (Mt 6:23 and 20:15). He thus defines the dark gaze of jealousy. The unhealthy eye admires, envies and judges others at the same time. We admire the neighbour for his qualities, but at the same time we are envious of him: in this way our eyes become judges, because they no longer see reality as it is, to the point of coming to judge others for an imaginary evil, not for something that has actually been done.
The apostle Saint Paul, in a decisive passage, expresses himself thus: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Rom 14:13). To stop judging one other does not lead to passivity, but is a condition for positive activity and correct behaviour. Jesus does not invite us to close our eyes and let everything go, because just before saying we must not judge, he asks: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” (Lk 6:39).
In the letters of the hermit monk John of Gaza and his brother Barsanuphius we find a good example of staying judgment: after upbraiding a brother for his negligence, John regrets seeing him sad and feels hurt as much as he when in turn he is judged by his brothers.
In order to find calm, he decides not to reproach anyone else and henceforth deal only with the things for which he is responsible. Then Barsanuphius makes him understand that the peace of Christ is not in withdrawing into oneself and quotes several times the words of the apostle Saint Paul: “Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). Barsanuphius understood that his brother John, in fact, continued to judge in his heart. Thus he writes: “Do not judge or condemn anyone, but admonish them like true brothers” (Letter 21).
Giving up judgments, John will be able to take care of others. Those who judge are always wrong. And they are wrong because they put themselves in the place of God, who is the only judge. In practice they believe that they have the power to judge everything: people, life, everything. And with the capability to judge, they believe they also have the capability to condemn.
The gospel tells us that judging others was one of the attitudes of those doctors of the law whom Jesus called “hypocrites”. They were people who judged everything. But the most serious thing is that, in doing so, they occupy the place of God, who is the only judge. And God, before judging, takes the necessary time, he waits. Instead, these men do it immediately: that’s why those who judge are wrong, simply because they put themselves in a place that is not theirs.
Those who judge always accuse. In the judgment of others there is always an accusation. Exactly the opposite of what Jesus does before the Father. In fact, Jesus never accuses, but, on the contrary, he defends. Therefore, if we want to follow the path of Jesus, more than accusers we must be defenders of others. But, above all, do not judge, because if you do, when you do something wrong, you will also be judged. This truth is good to remember in everyday life, when we are willing to judge and speak ill of others even within Christian communities.
Consider, for example, when we are in the parish, when the ladies from Sunday School fight against those from Critas. And these fights are always there. Even in the family or among the neighbors of the same neighborhood. The same happens among friends. And that does not lead to a good life.
Who am I to judge another?
When the Spirit comes and invites us to be born again, to a new life, it makes us docile, charitable. Do not judge anyone: the only judge is the Lord. The suggestion is: be quiet. And if I have to say something to someone, I tell only him or her, but not the whole neighborhood; or I say it only to that person or to those people who can remedy the situation.
This is only one step to new life, but it is a step that we must take every day. If, with the grace of the Spirit, we are able not to speak ill of others, it will be a great step forward. And it will be good for everyone. We ask the Lord to show to us and to the world the beauty and fullness of this new life, of this birth of the Spirit that comes to the community of the faithful and invites us to be meek, to be charitable with one another.
Be respectful. We ask this grace for all of us.
(Source: Vida Nueva; Novena translation)
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