Monday, March 13, 2017
“Stop judging and you will not be judged,” Jesus tells us in Luke today.
And we keep judging anyway!
Here are excerpts from a remarkable essay, “What’s in a Label,” by Archbishop William Lori, Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, published in Columbia, the Knights of Columbus Magazine.
The Church embraces societal efforts to speak with charity and goes further by teaching that a person is not the sum or his or her weaknesses or sins. No one’s humanity should be reduced to and summed up by labels such as “cheater” or “liar”—even if one may be guilty of those offenses. Such labels do not do justice to the whole person, nor do they recognize the possibility of repentance and reform. Rather, they are a way of writing off that person as unworthy of our consideration.
All around us we find disparaging labels applied to others with little hesitation—and sometimes with outright enthusiasm. We saw this in the bruising 2016 political season and have sadly seen it even in some Catholic journalism. We who are consumers of the news media—both secular and Church-related—too readily apply pejorative labels to other people.
In the heat of political battle, for example, candidates often hurl epithets at one another and their supporters. Last year’s presidential race in the United States gave us many painful examples of this. Ad homineum insults took the place of the reasoned political discourse that candidates owe to one another, to the electorate, and to the country.
Of course, the fault for the negative personal tone of politics does not lie entirely with politicians. Rather, it reflects a society already accustomed to snarkiness.
Unfortunately, the Church is not immune to all this. The style and content of the speech all around us affects us deeply. Yet if we are striving to follow Christ and live the Beatitudes, our regard for others should be markedly greater than what we find in the secular media. We should be very reluctant to pin labels on others.
Labeling a Church leader is a way of putting that person in a box so that one does not have to deal thoughtfully with what the leader actually says or does. For example, some parishioners may readily refer to their priest as “conservative” or “liberal” without ever really talking to him. Though labels may contain a grain of truth, they often short-circuit important conversations. And, sadly, ideological labels readily degenerate into uncharitable, ad hominem attacks on the integrity, abilities, and worth of fellow Christians with whom we are supposed to be united in the Body of Christ.
The net effect of labeling our fellow Christians is to weaken the Church’s mission by weakening the Church’s unity. This unity is based on truth—not only the revealed truth but also basic truths about our common humanity and what constitutes a just and peaceful society. If, instead of building bridges, we find ourselves obscuring the truth by pitting Church leaders and fellow parishioners against one another, we are breaking down that oneness that the Lord willed for his followers.
So, here’s an idea for Lent 2017. Let’s abstain from labels. Let’s abstain from snarky, uncharitable speech. Let’s contribute to making our society less divisive by making the Church less divided. Doing so will take a lot more grace, self-control and self-sacrifice than giving up candy, liquor or caffeine. Yet, as winter gives way to spring, such a sacrifice will yield a harvest of truth, joy, peace and love.
I couldn’t agree with this more.