I love the prayer in the missal, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a door round about my lips. Incline not my heart to evil words: to make excuses in sins.”
There is also a prayer in the Divine Office, “May He check and restrain our tongue so that it be not an instrument of discord and strife.”
How often have we said words that we regret and omitted those words that should have been said! May we be granted the grace to be prudent and loving in our words.
Let me first make an observation which is justified by reason and experience. The longer we live, the more daily proofs do we receive that there are often good and prudent reasons for a line of conduct, though appearances may seem doubtful, and even sometimes unfavorable.
There is no one who, in his relations with others, has not had occasion to remark how near that charity which prevents ill-natured judgments often is to the truth.
We observe this rule inflexibly where we ourselves are concerned. We exclaim at the injustice and unreasonableness of those who presume to judge us without knowing our motives, and the very next day, perhaps even the next moment after having given vent to these bitter complaints, we become guilty ourselves of a still greater injustice, and of a still greater want of good sense, with regard to our neighbor.
You pronounce judgment with unpardonable rashness on your neighbor.
Do you know all the motives of his conduct, and, if you do not know them, how dare you judge him? If men treat you in this manner, you are profoundly indignant.
There is a strange contradiction in all this, which God punishes, even on earth, by the law of retaliation. You know from your own experience that in this world of ignorance and error, the motives of our actions are commonly hidden; and, it is even right, for many wise and prudent reasons, that they should be so.
In condemning the conduct of our brethren, we often expose ourselves to the risk of condemning an act of great and sublime virtue. That man whom you hold in such contempt is perhaps a saint, whose whole life is an act of self-devotion in the cause of God and of his neighbor.
“There are many lives,” says La Rochefoucauld, “which to us may appear absurd, yet for which there may be good and weighty reasons.”
St. Bonaventure goes still further. He says, “There are many things which we think bad, merely because we do not understand them aright; did we do so, they would appear to us just and reasonable.”
You see, my children, that both good sense and justice render it an imperative duty for us to be very wary of unfavorable judgments on our neighbor. At every wish, every temptation to judge unfavorably of your neighbor, stop, and first make this reflection — How do I know but that this action, which seems so questionable to me, may not have some excellent motive to justify it?
And this proceeding, though so inexplicable to me, may be dictated by the purest charity.
In wishing to pass judgment on my neighbor with regard to these circumstances, I should be wanting in good sense as well as in charity, and I should be doing exactly what I would find intolerable if done to myself.
I should be usurping the right of God, to Whom alone it belongs, in virtue of His Omniscience, to know and duly weigh the reasons which justify or condemn the actions of men. ”
Always beware,” said a learned counsellor, “of causes which appear perfectly clear.”
St. John Climachus goes so far as to say — “Even though you see a sinner draw his last breath, you must not condemn him, for you know not what the judgment of God may be.”
“Men’s actions are very difficult to judge,” says Father Faber. “Their real character depends in a great measure on the motives which prompt them, and these motives are invisible to us.
“Appearances are often against what we afterwards discover to have been deeds of virtue. Moreover, a line of conduct is, in its look at least, very little like a logical process. It is complicated with all manner of inconsistencies, and often deformed by what is, in reality, a hidden consistency.
“Nobody can judge men but God, and we can hardly obtain a higher or more reverent view of God, than that which represents Him to us as judging men with perfect knowledge, unperplexed certainty, and undisturbed compassion. Now, kind interpretations are imitations of the merciful ingenuity of the Creator finding excuses for His creatures.” — Conferences, pp. 25, 26.
You should also be cautious how you believe every flying rumor. Such an immense quantity of smoke rises from the factory chimneys of all large commercial towns, that the whole atmosphere becomes obscured by the dense cloud of vapor spread overhead.
In all assemblies of men there are also factories, where lies, calumnies, and malicious reports are fabricated. These, too, ascend and spread in every direction, poisoning with their pestilential vapor weak and badly-disposed minds.
Be on your guard against these atmospheric fog. Be slow to believe, and where there is any doubt wait before you form a decided opinion. This was the counsel of a Christian philosopher — “Be slow to believe, slower still to judge.”
Trace a rumor back to its source, and you will discover that Peter repeated what he had heard from Paul, and exaggerated as he did so. You will find out that Paul is a trumpet, and has singularly added to the original sound; and, in the end, you will learn that there was no truth at all in the report, which had its birth in the laboratory of a bad tongue.
Such is the way of the world, and such are the miseries which raise tempests in the lives of individuals and societies.
The holy author of the ” Imitation” says very wisely, ” We must not easily give credit to every word and suggestion, but carefully and leisurely weigh the matter according to God. . . . Perfect men do not easily give credit to every report, because they know man’s weakness, which is very prone to evil and very subject to fail in words.”
A third remedy is to enter into ourselves, for the purpose of searching into and purifying our own conscience. There we may give free scope to the activity of our minds, pronounce the most severe judgments, lay down decrees, and censure as much as we please. If we take the torch of faith in our hands, we shall find ample matter for criticism and condemnation.
“Thou hypocrite,” says Jesus Christ, “why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own? Cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then thou shalt see to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
It is a fact that men are inclined to judge harshly, by reason of the corruption of their own hearts. They see in others what exists in themselves, or at least they discern every mote in their brother’s eye, but they do not see that these motes have become enormous beams in their own.
Occupy yourselves solely with your own affairs, my children. Labor to purify your consciences more and more each day, and you will learn to look on your brother with more favorable eyes. You will see him more clearly then, because you will have made clean the windows of your own souls.
Here is the advice of St. Augustine, “Endeavor to acquire the virtues in which you believe your brother to be wanting; then you will no longer be sensible of his defects, because they will have ceased to exist in yourself.”
The same Father says elsewhere, “that charity, while tending to our own perfection, makes us also more ready to believe in the virtuous qualities of others.”
This is an excellent rule, my children, for avoiding rash judgments. Love to shut yourself up in the secret chambers of your own conscience; work will never fail you there, and you will have no time to think about others.
Try to lead a Christian life, purify your conscience more and more, and you will know how to appreciate more justly and truly the actions of your neighbor.
Unfortunately, human nature is a tissue of contradictions; its curiosity concerning the lives of others is insatiable; but it never occupies itself in seeking out, and still less in correcting, its own faults.
Let us also profit by the different counsels the saints have given us. “Be more ready to believe good than evil,” says St. Augustine. “There is never any great difficulty in giving credit for goodness, but it may be a very fatal error to think evil of one who is a just man and pleasing in the sight of God.”
Extend this benevolent feeling yet more, for St. Bernard says, “When you see your neighbor commit a bad action, think that his intention may have been good, or that he erred through ignorance, or fell through surprise or weakness. If the action cannot be excused in any way, then think that the temptation was very great, and that you yourself might have done the same thing had you been in his place.”
Let the evident, known failings of your neighbor inspire you only with serious reflections on your own state of mind; nothing will then tend more into your advancement in virtue.
Never accuse your brethren with undue severity. A grave, but transient error, sometimes occurs in the life of a good man, whose soul may, notwithstanding, be more pleasing in the eyes of God than those of certain Pharisees, who pride themselves on their stoical strictness.
Be very cautious in judging where others are concerned. The goodness or badness of an action generally lies in the intention, and we have not received the gift of scrutinizing the hearts and minds of others, in order to read their motives.
Our own hearts are what we know much better, at all events what we can know much better. It is upon that ground we may give free scope to our judgments, and the only fault to be guarded against is over-indulgence on the part of the judge.
But, as for our brethren, we should respect their motives, even when the external act may appear blameworthy, and look at things from their fairest aspect, as far as prudence will allow us.
It is of course very evident that, if our moral and material interests are concerned, we may and even often ought to take the strongest precautions. In case we are not obliged to pass judgment on our neighbor, we leave all that to Almighty God.
We seek to preserve a possession dear to us, and we protect it against every possible accident which may arise from ignorance, folly, possible or probable malice, and even from misplaced good intentions. Besides this, it is certain that those who have the responsibility of governing others have special duties to fulfil, and that it is lawful, and even in some cases right, for them to suspect the existence of evil, and, without deciding on the degree of culpability, to take prudent measures to protect the sacred interests which have been confided to them.
I shall conclude with a word of counsel and consolation for those who are too much afraid of the judgments of men. I would say to them, whatever you do you cannot escape this persecution, whether it springs from thoughtlessness or malice. Go in any direction, north, south, east, or west; become a hermit or frequent society; be amiable or morose; dress in white, black, or red; adopt in turn the most contradictory opinions, and you will still find people to criticize, judge, and talk sense or nonsense about you.
You have only to read the fable of the old man, his son, and the ass. It would be attempting impossibilities to try and cure this evil; we can only resign ourselves and bear our cross courageously.
Try to act always for the best, then take no further notice, and let the wave of human criticism die away at your feet.
St. Paul exclaimed under similar circumstances — “But to me it is a very little thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day.”
Avoid everything that could give rise to just censure; and as for the rest, you may be in peace.
The just soul leaves drones to buzz away outside as much as they will; she shuts herself up in the heavenly hive, and labors to make the honey of virtue. The noise passes away as the wind, but the bee remains enjoying its riches and the fruit of its labors.
“To me it is a very little thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day.”
“The thought of the importance of your position as a Catholic mother should be a source of joy to you, but your battle will often be hard and your spiritual consolations few. It is good sometimes to know that although you have sacrificed many of the things modern ’emancipated’ women value so highly, your humble position is still the proudest in society. You are the possessor of the hand that rocks the cradle and rules the world. You are to be the comforter, the unchanging inspiration, and the educator of souls.” – Fr. Lovasik, Catholic Family Handbook
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