Sermons of the Curé of Ars: Sermons for all the Sundays and Feast Days of the Year
“O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, nor such as this publican.”
—Luke xviii. 2.
SYNOPSIS.—Rash judgment the result of our pride, which makes us overlook our own faults, and leads us to despise and judge others. Rash judgment is so great a sin, that Christ warns us against it expressly, in the parable of today’s gospel. Definition of rash judgment. Pride and envy the prime causes. Examples: Cain, Esau. One guilty of this sin is unhappy. Charity in judging our neighbors a great virtue. Example. Appearances deceitful. Those condemning others on appearances, following the example of the judges of the chaste Susanna, and of the persecutors of Christ. Rash judgment sometimes of serious consequence. God Himself did not judge Adam unheard. Judith, Joseph and Potiphar. Our own experience tells us that many times people are judged wrongly on appearances. Be careful, therefore.
These, dear brethren, are the words of the proud man who, full of his own importance, despises his neighbor, criticizes his behavior and condemns his actions though they be influenced by the most innocent and purest motives. He finds no good in anything but that what he says or does himself. You may see him constantly watching the words and actions of his neighbor and upon the least pretext, he blames, judges and condemns without mercy or inquiry. O accursed sin, thou art the cause of enmities, hatred, dissensions, and of eternal damnation of souls! Yes, dear brethren, we see that the person addicted to this sin, is scandalized at everything. Our Lord must regard this sin as a very great one and the devastation which it occasions in the world must be awful, because, so as to inspire us with a horror of it, He has so clearly and unmistakably characterized it for us in the Pharisee. How stupendous and how frightful is the evil which this execrable sin brings in its wake! And how difficult it is for those addicted to it, to give it up! To induce you, dear brethren, never to allow this dreadful fault to dominate you, I will describe it to you as well as I can.
I say in the first place, rash judgment is a prejudicial thought or word directed against our neighbor’s honor without sufficient cause. It can only proceed from a bad heart, filled with pride and envy; for a good Christian, who is penetrated with the thought of his own faults, does not think or judge bad of others; at least never without good reason, and only when he is obliged by duty to watch over them. We say, dear brethren, that rash judgment arises from a proud and envious heart, and this is easily understood.
The proud and envious have a good opinion only of themselves and they attribute everything that their neighbor does to bad motives: the good which they perceive in their neighbor, angers and vexes them. Holy Scripture gives us a true example of this in Cain, who interpreted all his brother’s actions as bad. When he saw that the latter was agreeable to God, he determined to kill him. It was the same with Esau who wanted to kill his brother Jacob. He spent his time finding out what the other did, and he was suspicious, and found nothing right that his brother did. His brother Jacob, who possessed a good, humble heart, thought no evil of his brother; he loved him with all his heart, always thought well of him, excused his actions, although they were bad, and although Esau even thought of taking his brother’s life. Jacob did everything in his power to change Esau’s mind. He prayed for him, even gave him presents, to prove his love for him, and to show him that he had not those motives which Esau ascribed to him.
This sin is a worm that gnaws; it consumes these people by day and night: they are always gloomy and dejected without being willing to say what troubles them, as their pride would thereby be hurt. This sin kills by a slow fire. O, what a sad life! But all the happier is the life of those who do not criticize their neighbors, and who take everything for the best! Their soul is at peace, they think badly only of themselves, and in consequence humble themselves before God and implore His mercy. Listen to a beautiful example.
We read in history of the fathers of the desert, that a religious who had led a pure and chaste life, was attacked by a sickness which eventually caused his death. When near death, and all the brethren surrounding his bed, the superior begged him to tell them in what virtue he considered himself most agreeable to God.
“My father,” replied the good religious, “it is difficult for me to tell you this, but under obedience, I will do so. Since my childhood I was exposed to the most terrible temptations of the devil; but the more he tormented me, the more did God console me and the Blessed Virgin, who one day, when I was greatly tormented by a devil, appeared, and drove away the devil, and exhorted me to virtue. To give you, she said to me, the best means to virtue, I will reveal to you something from the infinite treasury of my son; I will teach you three things, which, if you practice them rightly, will make you agreeable in the eyes of God, and which will put you in condition to easily overcome Satan, who desires your eternal ruin. You must humble yourself; never seek at meals for that which tastes good to you; in dress observe simplicity; in all your actions never seek that which will exalt you in the eyes of the world, but that which would humble you; never judge your neighbor harshly, no matter what you may perceive in his actions or words, for the thoughts of the heart do not always agree with the outward actions. Think well of everybody; this is pleasing to God. With these words the Blessed Virgin vanished. I have faithfully followed the path pointed out to me and hope that it has made me deserving of heaven.”
Thence, dear Christians, we see that only a bad heart judges its neighbor rashly. How often, in fact almost always, do we not have to repent having judged or spoken harshly of others, when in the course of time, and upon thorough inquiry we find that what has been said about our neighbor, is false. In judging rashly, we act like the judges of the chaste Susanne, who would, upon the accusation of the two false witnesses, not give her time to defend herself. Others imitate the presumption and malice of the Jews who spread abroad that Christ was a blasphemer, and possessed of the devil; others again behave like that Pharisee, who looked upon St. Mary Magdalen only as the notorious sinner without inquiring whether she had renounced her sins or not, although he saw her weep, confess her sins, and prostrate herself at the Saviour’s feet.
The Pharisee in today’s gospel, dear brethren, whom the Saviour presents to us a notorious type of all those who think and judge rashly of their neighbor, fell probably into three sins. By judging the poor publican, he thinks badly of him, judges him rashly and condemns him, without even knowing the disposition of his heart. His opinion is founded only upon conjecture. This is the first characteristic of rash judgment.
He compares the publican to himself in consequence of his pride and his malice: this is the second characteristic.
Finally, he judges and condemns him, without knowing whether what he says of him is true or false [the third characteristic], whilst this publican retires into a corner of the temple, strikes his breast, and implores forgiveness of God.
The reason why some people like to indulge in rash judgment is because they consider it a small matter, whereas it frequently becomes a grievous sin, especially if the occasion is important. But, you will say, this only takes place in my heart. It is just this which makes the sin so great, because our heart is created only for the love of God and our neighbor, and therefore this is treachery.
For often we tell people by words that we like them and have a good opinion of them, whilst in reality we hate them. Still there are persons who believe that a thought is not a sin, if it is not expressed in words. Though this sin, committed only in the heart, is smaller than if revealed outwardly, it is nevertheless a great injustice. If this sin is so great if perpetrated only in our hearts, I will leave it to your consideration how great it must be in sight of God when expressed in words.
Before speaking about anything we must investigate the case thoroughly, before we pass sentence upon it; for appearances often deceive, as we know from our own experience. Look at a judge when sitting at court over some offender; he lets the witnesses come one after another and questions them. He takes all possible pains to obtain a confession from the accused one. You know that if there is the slightest doubt, he does not pronounce sentence; and when he finds himself obliged to pronounce sentence, he does so reluctantly, for he is always in fear that he may have condemned an innocent person. Ah, dear brethren, how few rash judgments would there be if such precautions were taken before we judge of the conduct and actions of others. There would be fewer souls in hell!
God gives us in our ancestor Adam, a beautiful example of the way in which we should judge our neighbor. The Lord had seen and heard what Adam had done and said; He could have condemned him without further inquiry; but no; to show us that we should not be hasty in condemning our neighbor’s actions, He questioned our first parents, one after the other, so that they themselves might acknowledge the evil that they had done.
Whence come so many hasty judgments of our neighbor? From the great pride which blinds us, so that our own countless, and often much greater faults are overlooked by us.
I have seen persons who pronounced an entirely false judgment; but although they were shown their mistake they would not desist from it. Alas, poor blind souls, God awaits you, and you will be compelled to acknowledge that your pride caused you to think badly of your neighbor. Furthermore, in order to be able to judge unerringly of our neighbor’s words and deeds, we should have to know the state of his heart, and his real intentions. We do not take the proper precautions to investigate, dear brethren, and this is the reason why we make mistakes in judging our neighbor’s conduct. We act just like condemning a person to death upon the testimony of untrustworthy persons without giving him time to defend himself.
But you will say, we only judge of what we see, what we hear and what we are witnesses of: “I saw what I am asserting; I heard with my own ears what he said: therefore I cannot be mistaken.” Very well! If you are anxious to judge, begin by judging your own heart, scorched with pride and arrogance: you will find that you are infinitely more culpable than your neighbor whom you would judge so rashly. You may then find reason to fear that one day you see that very neighbor of yours entering heaven, while you are dragged by the devil away to hell.
“Alas, miserable pride,” says St. Augustine, “you dare to judge your brother on the slightest pretext, and you do not know whether he has not already repented of his fault, and belongs again to the number of God’s friends. Take care that he does not take your place, which you are greatly in danger of losing by your pride.” Yes, dear brethren, all these rash judgments and misrepresentations, and misconstructions, come only from those who have a secret pride, who do not know themselves, and who think they know their neighbor’s mind, which is known to God alone. If we could only succeed in eradicating this greatest of the capital sins from our hearts, then we would never suppose that any of our fellow men were doing wrong; we should never take pleasure in watching their conduct; we should be satisfied to lament our own sins and strive as much as possible to improve ourselves. Nothing else would trouble us. No, dear, brethren, I do not believe that there is another sin more to be feared and more difficult to renounce than the sin of rash judgment, even by some persons who appear to perform their religious duties faithfully.
Now tell me, dear brethren, what foundations have we for all this judging and criticizing? Only appearances, and more often than not, just a “They say.” Or perhaps you saw and heard it yourself? Still you can be mistaken even in seeing and hearing. For we do not know the interior state of a person and the motive for his actions.
If you had seen how the beautiful Judith took off her mourning garments, and surrounded herself with everything that nature and art offered to increase her extraordinary beauty, you would have exclaimed on seeing her enter the apartment of the enemy and to all appearances endeavored to find favor in his eyes, “What a bad woman!” Instead of which she was a pious widow; chaste and pleasing to God, who thus imperiled her life to save her people.
Tell me, dear brethren, what would have become of your rash judgments, and your habit of thinking evil of your neighbor, if you had seen the chaste Joseph leaving the room of Potiphar’s wife, and if you had heard that woman screaming, and seen her holding in her hands a piece of Joseph’s mantle, and pursuing him as one who wanted to dishonor her? At once, without further inquiry, you would have thought and said that this young man was bad and depraved, that he had even laid a snare for the wife of his master, from whom he had received many kindnesses. And he was really condemned by his master Potiphar, and everyone looked upon him as guilty, and despised him; but God, who knew the heart and innocence of Joseph, rejoiced at his action, because Joseph feared the loss of his good name and his life less, than the loss of his innocence and the perpetration of a grievous sin.
Do you understand now, dear brethren, in what danger we are of judging our neighbor’s actions wrongly, in spite of all that we may see and hear? This should warn us not to judge the actions of others and, if obliged as parents or teachers, to watch their conduct, only upon careful observation and investigation. In regard to our neighbors uncalled for judgment is nearly always wrong. Yes, dear brethren, I have known persons who judged harshly of their fellow men’s intentions, when I knew positively that they were good.
I tried to teach them differently, but without avail.
Tell me, dear brethren, have we any better foundation for judging our neighbor’s actions than those persons had who saw the beautiful Judith adorn herself magnificently and visit Holofernes? No, dear brethren, we are no surer of what we see and hear, than were those who saw Potiphar’s wife with a piece of Joseph’s mantle in her hands, and heard her claim that he had attempted to assault her. Here you have two examples which the Holy Ghost gives us, to show us how deceitful appearances are, and how greatly we sin by forming rash judgments. Happy, therefore, are they, who do not concern themselves about their neighbor’s conduct, for which they are not answerable, who think only of themselves, who acknowledge their own faults, and try and amend them with all their strength! Happy are they, whose hearts and minds are occupied solely with the fear of God, and use their tongues only to beseech pardon of God, and their eyes to weep over their own sins. Amen.