By William Deatherage, Executive Director
“Don’t judge me! That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” How many times do we hear these words shouted (yes, usually shouted) at us? The readings today, though, illustrate an urgency to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. Malachi and Psalms praise God for His justice, and Thessalonians charges Christians with being roles models: “Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us,” (Thess). Finally, the Gospel foretells of the world’s destruction and our final judgment.
The Church is at an interesting point, right now. In one extreme, there are people who are quick to judge others, but manifest said judgments in ways that often cause more harm than good. On the other hand, there are Catholics who are so scared of offending others that they neglect to enforce the moral standards that Christ requires of us, and thus all accountability is lost. At some point, I would like to address the ideal of how Catholics should interact with those outside of the Church, but today I would like to focus on how we treat our own members.
We are called to be a priestly people. We are the successors of both the Apostles and the Israelites. Therefore, as ambassadors of Christ, our Baptism commits us to lives of priestly holiness. Does this mean that Catholics are called to a higher standard in the eyes of God than others are? In one respect, absolutely. St. Paul emphasizes our call to imitate Christ, while Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, warns of false prophets who will lead God’s people astray. All too often, we forget that all people, Christian and non-Christian, belong to God: the latter are often unaware of that fact. But we, as a people who are indeed aware of our commitment to Christ, are expected to be living examples of what our Lord teaches. When we fail to do so, we not only fail at being ambassadors of Christ, but we often lead people to sin and evil.
Recently, our Church has been rocked by the denial of Communion to a high profile politician. I’d rather not comment on the specific situation for the time being, but this relevant event has brought many questions to light. Primarily, what does it mean for Catholics, as a priestly people, to hold each other accountable, and how can we do so effectively? It is true that the denial of Eucharist is, in fact, an act of mercy. It indicates that the person cannot receive Christ because he or she is in a state of mortal sin. Difficult as it may be, just as a doctor presents news of a terminal illness to his or her patient, it is the prerogative of the Church to inform Her spiritual patient of their condition. It is not an occasion for happiness (and trust me, a great many Catholics have rejoiced in the denial of Communion), but one of hopefulness for reconciliation. Heck, sometimes I wish that my priest denied me Communion if they knew I was in a state of spiritual disrepair.
Now, the effectiveness and productivity of this method, especially in an age when Communion denial is misunderstood, might be questionable and ripe for misuse, but I argue that the principle holds. As the priestly successors of Israel, we as a Church, bound to the teachings of Christ by Baptism, must hold each other accountable. We, though spiritually frail, must help each other grow in every way, and the first step towards greater growth is through humble acknowledgment of weakness. There is indeed an invincible ignorance granted to those who do not yet know Christ, and this is precisely why those who profess themselves to Christ must be held to a higher standard. Every time we utter the Nicene Creed, every time we even cross ourselves, we commit ourselves to Christ. We agree to carry the cross that the Church has been charged with for all of history, and we accept the intensity and pain that comes with it. To shirk responsibility or misuse our roles while carrying it is unacceptable. Yes, we will all fall from time to time, but when we speak or act in the name of Christ, we must commit ourselves to that standard and submit to a special kind of judgment that ultimately helps us grow in Christ.