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New Year's Resolution -- Month Three
by Lois Donahue
Thought it a good idea to write to you about my New Year’s Resolution before much time went by. Mainly because my track record for “long running” adherence to such things is pretty much embarrassing. However, I truthfully made this particular one with a great deal more follow-through determination. I must confess though, I am a bit apprehensive about giving it to you. I know I will be risking everything from shock to downright alienation but, since from the beginning of our “chats” I’ve made it a point to be up-front and honest with you, here goes -- As of the first of this year I resolved to be INTOLERANT AND JUDGMENTAL. Sounds awful doesn’t it? Like I’m being inconsiderate, mean-spirited but, worst of all, like I am defying the all-too-familiar Biblical warning “Judge not”.
Please let me attempt an explanation by regretfully having to admit that it all began because I became irritated at the frequency with which I was labeled judgmental and intolerant when I no more than stated my viewpoint as a Catholic concerning some of the current morality issues being discussed. Not wanting to appear either smugly ‘know it all’ or pretentiously ‘holier than thou’, I simply took the ‘lukewarm’ way out - became silent and convinced myself that either the name callers were hopelessly misinformed or that someone else, better able to explain than I, would come along and deal with them.
My guilty conscience wouldn’t buy into that and continued to needle me so I again began to verbally defend my position and soon found myself in the “Triple A Zone” of accusations, arguments and anger. Needless to say, at that point, an irritation became almost a combative “pet peeve” which, in turn, became an annoying Catholic-conscience ulcer. I’d about decided to ignore the whole thing in hopes that it would go away, when, during Mass one day last December, I heard these words from the Prayer After Communion “Father teach us to judge wisely the things of this earth”. So much for it going away. I knew then I had to sort this whole thing out in my mind.
First, of course, I went right to the top with what I know now was a rather half-hearted ‘please-let-this-be-a-simple-quick-fix’ kind of prayer. God grinned and sent me back to do some homework. I was in no position to argue so I turned to trusted sources and began defining words:
JUDGE - to determine, to make a decision
DECISION - make a judgment
JUDGMENT - the forming of an opinion as from circumstances presented to the mind
JUDGMENTAL -involving the exercise of judgment
INTOLERANCE - unwilling to tolerate contrary opinions or beliefs
OPINION - a personal view or appraisal
BELIEF - an opinion or conviction
TOLERATE - to “put up with”
Taking all of the above into consideration, I came to the conclusion that I should not TOLERATE (put up with) actions which I JUDGE (determine) are contrary to what I believe is right. Let me repeat and emphasize the word actions. I knew I could not, should not and hopefully would not judge the ‘why’ of any person’s behavior. ‘What’ that behavior might happen to be was a different story.
While all of that made sense to me, I still had guilt shivers about words like those two found at the beginning of the seventh chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel - “judge not..” Obviously more homework was needed. This time I went to The Jerome Biblical Commentary for an explanation of what St Matthew was saying and here’s what I found -- “The meaning of ‘judge’ is not simply to have an opinion -- this can scarcely be avoided; the word means to judge harshly, to condemn..” I stopped there and reread the part about us ‘being scarcely able to avoid forming an opinion’ - in other words , ‘to avoid judging ‘.
To me that was saying quite plainly - it is inevitable -- there will be times when we will each need to judge - simply as a person, or as a parent , as a teacher, as a citizen, as a Catholic etc. - and the consequence of any judgment we make might necessitate us being, to some degree at least, intolerant. Two instances in the life of Jesus immediately came to mind. In observing the Scribes and the Pharisees, He did not hesitate to judge their behavior and openly called them “hypocrites” and we have all heard about how he demonstrated the fact that He would not tolerate “money-changers” in His Father’s house. I am inclined to believe those incidents could well have been Jesus’ way of illustrating to us that, under certain circumstances , it is O.K. to judge - O.K. not to tolerate. Let me share with you a couple of quotes from the Bible where people were actually told to judge. First, here are Jesus’ own words found in John 7:24 “Stop judging by appearances; but judge justly” and St. Paul, in 1 Cor 11:13, says, “Judge for yourselves.”
Strangely enough, St. Paul’s words also helped me clear away another patch of quilt-fog which would cloud my thoughts about ‘judging’. Whenever I’d think about the woman facing death because of adultery and hear Jesus saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”. I’d ask how I could ever think I had the right to throw a judgment stone? Then at other times, I would wonder - undoubtedly having a ‘beam’ in my own eye, how could I dare even mention seeing a spec in the eye of anyone else? However, when I found the words of St. Paul in Romans 7:25 “..I myself, with my mind serve the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin”, I realized this great defender and preacher of the Faith, even though declaring himself to be a sinner, felt obligated to ‘judge’ on so many occasions, as evidenced by his letters in the New Testament.
This left me with the reinforced belief that each one of us, regardless of the kind or size of role we are asked to play is obliged to be part of God’s delegated mission to carry on and defend the message of our faith, and, in so doing, we are going to have to make judgment calls.
Personally I am aware God is not always specifically detailed in letting me know what He wants me to do or has He ever promised it would be easy; but I am certain now that He expects me to ‘judge’ because He gave me a heart to feel and a mind to think thereby giving me the ability to judge and because I know that He, together with His written word and His church, will always be there to guide me as to what, when and how to judge. Something else I know just as surely -- He will judge me, justly and fairly, according to how I judge others and that is as it should be.
Beyond that I realize ‘judging’ will be the determining factor as to what I should not tolerate and that His having given me the gift of a free will means it will be up to me, not only to make choices, but to be responsible for any actions I take as a result of those choices.
Consequently, in spite of the fact that my New Year’s Resolution to be INTOLERANT and JUDGMENTAL was made somewhat hastily, was conceived in irritation rather than anything admirable and will no doubt (although I hope not intentionally) produce some wrong judgments, living with it and wondering about it for even such a short time gave me insight into what I feel I must do as a Catholic woman in a place and time when the unfortunate trend seems to be to selectively ‘tolerate everything’ and ‘judge nothing ‘ -- and that is this -- I must judge according to God’s teaching and prayerfully form my conscience so as to know that teaching.
Oh I know making this resolution was the easy part. The hard part - keeping it - lies ahead and since, as a rule my resolutions, like my annual one to lose weight, rarely withstand the temptations ever present in time, I truly hope and pray this one will be an exception.
So I’ll say goodbye for now and, in the months ahead, attempt to judge wisely when it is that I should ‘turn the other cheek’ and when I should ‘put on the armor of Christ’.