After a ceremony in one of our parishes, I went to the social hall to meet people, moving table to table to do so. Some of the folks very respectfully stood up to greet me, a gesture sincerely appreciated but certainly unnecessary.
One very nice lady started to stand up and I said, “Please, ma’am, don’t get up. Stay there and relax.” I went on speaking to some of the other people at the table when she started to get up again. “Really, you don’t have to get up” I insisted, placing my hand gently on her shoulder to discourage her.
It was then that she looked at me with a fair amount of irritation and said, pointedly, “Bishop, I’m trying to get up to get some cookies!”
As my face turned as red as my zucchetto, I realized that I had completely misjudged her reasons for wanting to stand. It was a good reminder that we can never really judge someone’s motives; we really can’t read someone’s heart.
Now, there are many times when we can and should make value judgments about objective actions. Parents make judgments about their kids’ behaviors, teaching them right from wrong. Law enforcement officials and judges make judgments about whether or not something is a crime. And even the Church makes judgments about the behavior of its members, leading sometimes to canonical penalties or even excommunication.
But judging the reasons for someone’s behaviors is a different matter. Why does a man resort to stealing or drug use? Was there something in his background that led him down that destructive path? What motivates a woman to divorce her husband – his infidelity, abuse, or irresponsible behavior perhaps? Why do so many young adults quit going to Mass? Have they been scandalized by the Church, did they get a bad example at home, or have they just been caught up in the inertia of our secular, atheistic culture?
The Bible observes that, “Jesus knew men so well that he needed no evidence from others about a man, for he himself could tell what was in a man.” (Jn 2:25) And since none of us has the wisdom or insight of Jesus we should remember that judging the motives of others, reading their hearts, is an exercise better left to him.
The lady wasn’t standing up to greet me. She just wanted some cookies.
Something to think about: Do you sometimes have the bad habit of judging others?