Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Judging Others


If you've lived as a Christian for longer than 20 minutes, it's almost a sure bet that you've been admonished by that "certain type of atheist"1 about "judging others." A typical sort of scenario: you visit a blog containing a post about something recently in the headlines. As an example, let's say the post concerned yet another American public school teacher caught committing statutory rape against one of her students. You hit the comments section and post something like, "The further away from God we get, the more we see of this sort of thing. This woman needs to be jailed." Then comes a typical response: "Oh, brother. Here we go again with some sky-fairy-believing idiot foisting his morality on the rest of us. Doesn't your Bible say you're not supposed to judge people? Hypocrite!"2

That sort of atheist bases his premise on these verses from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 7:1-5:

Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother' s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye?  Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother' s eye.

First of all, authority isn't given to the atheist (or to Protestants) to interpret Scripture; that's the Church's job.

Second, we have to make judgments all the time in order to survive and flourish. "I need open heart surgery. Should I call a plumber or a heart surgeon?" "I need a date for the prom. Should I ask Heather or Hayley?" "I'm hungry. Should I eat Kung Pao chicken or an egg sandwich?" "I got jury duty and closing arguments are finished. Is the defendant guilty or not guilty?" John 7:24 commands us to judge: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment."

Third, in these verses, Lord Christ is telling us that we should focus most of all on judging ourselves. But nowhere does He say that we are not to judge actions. In fact, in the very next verse, He says, "Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you." By saying this to us, He obviously assumes that we can and should differentiate between "swine" and "non-swine." Further, in that very same chapter, He continues:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.

Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in Thy name, and cast out devils in Thy name, and done many miracles in Thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity. Every one therefore that heareth these My words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.

And every one that heareth these My words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

In these verses, He distinguishes between false and true prophets, wolves and sheep, those who produce good fruits and those who produce bad fruits, fools and the wise. And by speaking these words to us, He assumes that we, too, are able to make those same discernments -- those same judgments.

But before we make those sorts of judgments, we should examine ourselves so that any fraternal correction we engage in is done properly. Humility is one of the keys to understanding these verses, about which
St. John Chrysostom writes,

"What then!" say you: "if one commit fornication, may I not say that fornication is a bad thing, nor at all correct him that is playing the wanton?" Nay, correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines. For neither did Christ say, "stay not him that is sinning," but "judge not;" that is, be not bitter in pronouncing sentence...

...His injunction therefore in these words is as follows, that he who is chargeable with countless evil deeds, should not be a bitter censor of other men's offenses, and especially when these are trifling. He is not overthrowing reproof nor correction, but forbidding men to neglect their own faults, and exult over those of other men.

Another key is differentiating between judging the actions or general character of a fellow sinner, and acting as if one has the authority to judge his soul.

To sin means to "miss the mark," to fail to do what is perfectly righteous. The things that constitute sins are laid out, above all, with the Two Great Commandments to love God and to love our neighbor, which encompass the Ten Commandments, and the precepts of the Church. It's typically easy to determine when someone is "missing the mark," John skipped Mass last Sunday. Rachel had sex with her boyfriend. The teenaged Marilyn sassed her parents and threatened to kill herself. All of those actions "miss the mark" of perfection. They are exterior things that we can see and readily call "sins."

here are a myriad of things, though, that can mitigate one's culpapbility, one's guilt, for missing that mark -- but only God is privy to all the information needed to determine culpability. Take the example of the sassy teenaged Marilyn: perhaps her parents are atheists who never taught her about the Ten Commandments and the importance of virtue. Maybe they're also the sort of parents who don't emotionally affirm their children, who don't even try to understand them, who bark orders at them, who don't listen when their children try to talk to them about their struggles, all of which cause Marilyn to become a depressed, angry young lady. In that light, Marilyn's sassiness and her threat to murder herself become more understandable, and all of those things may well mitigate her guilt for having sinned. While we can say that Marilyn did, in fact, "miss the mark," we simply cannot know to what degree she is culpable.

And then there is the phenomenon of some feeling superior to and judging others for sins they, themselves, are not in position to commit, but very well may if they were tested. For example, a girl might take spiritual pride in the fact that she is chaste while, in reality, being a very unattractive person who has never been in the situation of having her chastity put to the test. She could easily too harshly judge the actions of girl with super model looks who's surrounded by men wanting her. Or take the example of a physically weak man who prides himself on being "nice": is his "niceness" really a manifestation of virtue -- or is it cowardice? Another example could be the person who harshly judges others for apparent gluttony while he, himself, simply doesn't have a big appetite. There's no great accomplishment in refraining from doing what you didn't want to do in the first place, or could never do even if you wanted to.

Walk a mile in another's moccasins -- or combat boots or ballet slippers or sandals or stiletto pumps -- before making any necessary judgments regarding behavior. And know that when it comes to souls, it is Christ alone Who is Judge! He alone has the omniscience and authority to determine to whom much has been given and, so, from whom much is required (Luke 12:48), and who is saved and who is not. We can only judge the exterior of a man, what he does, what he says, and so forth, but Christ alone determines whether that man, no matter his exterior, is in His good graces. He knows our upbringing, our struggles, each and every encounter with others that have influenced us, what we've been taught, what we've failed to have been taught, what misunderstandings we have, our genetic influences, even the physiology and biochemistry of our bodies that influence how we perceive things or how prone we are to various addictions, and on and on. He knows for certain whether we sin from weakness, licentiousness, or malice. We are left to "love the sinner, hate the sin," using prudence and charity when calling out a sin committed by another -- that is, when engaging in fraternal correction (see "Conversion of the Heart"). Or, another way of putting it is that we must "judge the sin, but not the sinner."

Two Common Extremes

As I write, the human element of Holy Mother Church is in a deep state of crisis. Our Bishops, including the present Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, spead confusion, being apparently unwilling to call a sin a sin (unless, these days, it's an alleged "sin" against "social justice" or leftist causes). The Novus Ordo lectionary has even been stripped of readings that mention judgment, sin, Hell, Satan, possession, etc. (see this .pdf "The Gutting of the Gospels").

When asked about homosexual priests, Pope Francis infamously replied with, "Who am I to judge?", a response that, while technically accurate in terms of his not having the authority to judge the souls of those men, lets slide the serious issues that stem from having ordained men who should not have been allowed into seminaries in the first place, a phenomenon that's led to widespread confusion and outrage on the part of the faithful, and rejoicing on the part of "progressives." Since then, faithful Catholics have had to endure having the words of their own Pope thrown in their faces when they express concern about activists' agenda. 

Now, many Bishops, Cardinals, and priests are siding with Francis's tinkering with the presentation of the Church's teachings on marriage. We hear of dioceses in which the "re-married" who are not living in a state of sexual continence -- i.e., unrepentant adulterers -- are being allowed to receive Communion. Homosexuals who consider themselves "married" are being given a wink and a nod and full access to the Sacraments. The arch-heretic Luther is being praised, and joint celebrations of one of the most devastating things in the History of the Church, the so-called "Reformation," is being treated as a wonderful thing by the Pope himself. A large part of the human element of the Church is caving in to the world, not wanting to be thought of as "exclusive" or, as trite as it sounds, "uncool," and all of this is being done in the name of "mercy." Faithful Bishops and priests who fight back or simply maintain the Faith intact are punished for it, which brings to mind the words of Our Lady of Akita, uttered on October 13, 1973:

The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres. Churches and altars will be sacked. The Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.

This modern unwillingness to call a sin a sin is born of cowardice or pride and greed, either born of fear of being thought of as "uncool" or of a desire to gain wordly acclaim or rank in the Church hierarchy. Whatever its genesis, it is evil. The faithful are being led astray, and the Church Militant rendered powerless and banal, being put in the position of offering little that the world doesn't already offer.

That sort of cowardice or pride is seen among lay Catholics as well. In their desire to not "offend," many are willing to lie about or water down Church teachings -- perhaps even to themselves.

In fact, however, Church teaching has not changed and cannot change! What was true about sin a hundred years ago is still true today, and, sadly, Catholics must now go out of their way to learn what the Church has always taught, using old catechisms and Encyclicals, sometimes even having to ignore those who've been entrusted to guide them. We must keep in mind, always, the words of St. Paul to the Galatians, as recounted in Galatians 1:8-10:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."

There is a backlash against such evil, though -- a backlash that can sometimes be just as evil. Understandably and righteously angry about what is happening, some Catholics overreact to such betrayals of the Faith by lapsing into an unhealthy attitude toward some of our "more obvious" fellow sinners that ignores the Truth of Christ's mercy. Some act as if they have the authority, knowledge, power, and duty to judge souls, and many forget to examine themselves before engaging in fraternal correction. I've also seen a good bit of lashing out that involves scapegoating. For example, I've heard some ugly things said about homosexuals, words that don't differentiate between those who simply have that disorder, and those who want their disorder normalized by society and who wilfully and unrepentantly act on their sexual impulses.

Some lapse into a severe rigidity, being so understandably tired of the diabolical disorientation that marks the modern West, that they come to cling to a world of "black or white" thinking. Righteous anger at what radical feminists are doing to the family, our children, and even the very idea that there are two sexes, can morph into a hyper-rigid, unjust view of what the sexes, especially women, should be allowed or disallowed to do. Righteous anger against how European people are treated can turn into vitriol against people of other races. Righteous anger at the doings of AIPAC, the ADL, and other like groups, and how the State of Israel is allowed to act with outrageous double standards and permitted too much power over the American Congress, can turn into actual anti-semitism (hatred of Jews because of their ethnicity). And so on.

Both of these extremes must be avoided. We are simply to do what Christ tells us to do, and do it in the way He and His Church have told us to do it, keeping in mind the Two Great Commandments above all. We must call out sin when it's prudent to do so, but we must do it in the right way! And we must never back down even if we are hated for it! Keep in your heart the words from the Gospel according to St. John 15:18-20:

If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Offer up the sufferings that come from your being at odds with the world. Know how to engage in fraternal correction, honoring charity above all, and using the virtue of prudence. Pray for strength, and keep the prayer to St. Michael on your lips. Stay very close to Jesus and His Sacraments, and trust in Him! Trust that the gates of Hell will never prevail against His Church, and that, in the words of St. Julian of Norwich, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" in the end. Lord Christ has already won this war!


The same sort of aforementioned atheist is also apt to accuse Christians of "hypocrisy" when we stumble and sin. But that isn't what hypocrisy means. Hypocrisy involves deception -- the feigning of belief in something one doesn't actually believe, or the pretense of having a virtuous character that one doesn't, in fact, possess. In the end, it's about pride and/or greed, about presenting a false persona to the world, a vision of one's self that isn't true, all for the cause of some earthly gain, such as the admiration of others. I've yet to meet a Christian who claims to be perfect, however.

And isn't it rather convenient for someone with no moral standards other than his own desires, or someone who thinks that good and evil don't exist at all, to accuse of "hypocrisy" those who know otherwise, but who, being human, sometimes stumble and fail to live up to those standards, needing to repent and to resolve to sin no more? Even if it were "hypocritical" to, say, believe that murder is wrong and to then commit a murder out of passion -- for example, after returning home and finding one's spouse sexually in flagrante delicto with another -- I'd rather live in a world of such "hypocrites" than in one in which moral standards have been thrown out altogether or are based on what critical theorists blather on about.

2 There's another problem with how the typical American atheist, having grown up in a predominantly Protestant country, deals with trying to beat down Catholics: he's liable to base his arguments on the sola scriptura premise that Protestants hold to. But we Catholics don't understand our religion based on "the Bible alone"; we also have Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium as bases of authority. I've experienced, seemingly countless times, this sort of accusation hurled at me: "Hypocrite! You hate homosexuals probably because Leviticus says, 'If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination, let them be put to death: their blood be upon them.' But you eat shellfish, I bet, right? Your Bible says that's not allowed, though! Read the rest of Leviticus, idiot! Hypocrite!"

Well, first of all, being against normalizing homosexuality and the condoning of homosexual acts doesn't mean one "hates homosexuals," of course, but the greater point is that this type of atheist might be able to pull that sort of thing off on a Protestant, but we Catholics know that the Old Testament laws have been fulfilled. Further, and more importantly, we simply don't treat Sacred Scripture as the only source of authority. Nor do we treat it as a book whose every word we, as individuals, need to come to conclusions about on our own. We also don't believe that every word in Scripture must be obeyed or treated as a lesson in how to live simply because it's written down. We know that the Bible is, in fact, filled with sinners and descriptions of their doings. We don't flinch when that "certain type of atheist" goes on about how the Bible has stories involving rape and other forms of violence, etc., and then presents that fact as somehow a "zinger" against Christianity (of course the Bible is filled with such things! It's the History of human beings! Mentioning something doesn't mean condoning it, and the Bible does not, in fact, condone such behaviors, unlike the Koran and unlike Talmudic writings outlining what is allowable when dealing with non-Jews). We know that some Books are important in terms of History and prophecy, that some books are to be understood poetically, that types and antitypes exist, etc., and, most of all, we know that Old Testament laws no longer apply to Israel (i.e., the Church). The Church Fathers and the Magisterium show us how to read and understand Scripture, which is why we don't see St. Luke's mention of Mary's "firstborn" as proof that there was a "second-born" and, ergo, Mary wasn't a virgin, as many Protestants think. To learn how even the misunderstanding of one simple word can have a radical effect on things such as how Mary is understood by those who act as their own popes and magisterium, on those who've thrown out Sacred Tradition and ignore History, see the "Ever-Virgin" part of the page about Mary in the "For Protestants" section of this site. And then realize that that example is just one among many, demonstrating clearly how "sola scriptura" -- especially as a premise used by the unlearned -- leads to theological chaos and division.

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