Fr. James Martin, SJ, a popular Jesuit writer, recently posted this on his Facebook page. I spent some time looking at the comments that I thought he might be referring to, but since I can't figure out the full context, I'm going to take some liberties. I hope you all don't mind.
The behavior Fr. Martin is trying to curb here is certainly a bothersome one. I think Father is correct in identifying these cries of "bad Catholics" as judgements, and judgements are dangerous things. Full judgement, that is, judgement of the soul, is reserved to God alone. I'm not saying that pragmatic judgements regarding a person's actions should never be made by the proper authorities; after all, Jesus said, "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." (Matthew 18:18). That's a responsibility of the Magisterium, and the hierarchy of our Church must point out errors that go against the Good News. Call it tough love if you wish; simply put, we need people who spend their lives studying the Word and can point out transgressions against that Word: we call this the the Magisterium.
On the other hand, we can't all call other people "bad Catholics." It's not our place to make such judgements. The Church is a hospital for sinners, and we all have the stain of Sin on us. Some people have unique and tiresome burdens they must carry; sometimes, these people quite visibly stumble. Even people who have generally saintly lives sometimes falter; such is the taint of Original Sin. It's easy to shake your head at the drunk, until you consider that perhaps his family has a history of alcoholism and he doesn't know a healthy way to deal with the troubles of life that others might be able to shrug off. Instead of calling him a bad Catholic, perhaps it would be better to encourage him to go to AA meetings so that he can improve his life, and support him on the road to abstinence. Of course, he might fall off the wagon a few times on the road, but such is the stubborn nature of sin. He also might refuse your help, but you should be willing to extend a hand if you get the opportunity.
Paul's letter to the Galatians offers some guidance in this matter: "Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens; and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:1-2).
|Dear Galatians: Be nice. I'm trying to convert the Mediterranean, and I'm hearing about your antics all the way over in Jerusalem. You're not making this easy.|
I think that it's important to note that I'm not saying you should see an alcoholic friend vomiting on the steps of your dorm and think, it's not my place to judge other people, and then go and leave him there. There's a huge difference here. One is not judging a person because you simply can't know the fullness of the load they must bear. The other is refusing to help a person in need.
I think it's also important to point out that some people use this lack of judgement as a license to misrepresent Church teaching. Some prominent Catholics take advantage of mercy and make false claims about Church teaching, saying that their membership in the Church allows them to make claims statements what is authentically Church teaching and what isn't.
[ Update: Several lines in this paragraph were badly-worded, if not completely incorrect. See comments section. A synopsis of what I was trying to say: Sometimes Catholics in prominent positions misrepresent Church teachings. While everyone is entitled to opinions, the Magisterium has final say in doctrinal matters, and we should take their guidance seriously. Since we live in a democracy, it is our duty to oppose certain policies according to our consciences informed by sacred truth with the guidance of the Magisterium. That isn't to say that I don't think reform is ever needed, or that you should disobey your conscience after you've properly formed it. Sorry if I gave such an impression. Thanks for the comment, Bob!]
Copyright (c) 2012 David Birkdale