Saturday, December 21, 2013

A word from Fr. Hardon on the high anxiety over bishop-shuffling

Amidst all the news stirring anxieties about bishop shuffling and other Church affairs, we have to remember that if tomorrow we were to die and stand before God, he wouldn't be as interested in what we knew about the latest bishop changes; but, he might be interested in whether we crossed any lines talking about such things. This is one of those inconvenient aspects of our faith that we dismiss at our own peril.

Speculation is that bishops are being changed around in the curia because of, "A" when it may be because of "B" or "C" and anything else through "Z."  With what is publicly available, and not coming from unnamed sources (gossip), even if they be from other bishops; or, well known Vatican journalists; or, popular online, radio, or TV commentators; or, the parish priest -- there is insufficient public evidence to judge the cause of the changes.  Is it a crackdown on devotees of the traditional Latin Mass or on "conservatives" as some claim or imply?  Or, is it a matter of lessening influence of one bishop with many hats in the curia to make room for more broad influence by others?  Is it a divide in the Latin rite over certain ideologies? Perhaps it is one of these or none of these.  Or, it could be any number of other reasons yet unknown to us.  We simply do not know and we can't treat speculation as fact. When contempt and disdain for members of the hierarchy arise based on speculation, it flies in the face of holiness and virtue.

Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, in talking about imprudence, teaches that sins against prudence are either by defect, or excess. Here, we are interested in the first:

Sins by defect against prudence are: rashness, which acts before due consideration has been given; thoughtlessness, which neglects to take the necessary circumstances into account; and negligence, which does not give the mind sufficient time for mature deliberation.

"Rash judgment begins when we go beyond the evidence available…"

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2477, that rash judgment happens if one, "even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor." 

Fr. Hardon defines rash judgment this way (emphasis mine in bold):

Unquestioning conviction about another person's bad conduct without adequate grounds for the judgment. The sinfulness of rash judgment lies in the hasty imprudence with which the critical appraisal is made and in the loss of reputation that a peson suffers in the eyes of the one who judges adversely.

So, if we allow, within ourselves, another person's reputation to suffer through rash judgment, it can be sinful. 

Fr. Hardon says that rash judgment begins, "at the point where we go beyond the evidence available to judge the culpability of the action, attribute evil motives, and decide against the character or moral integrity of the person whose conduct we observed."

Fr. Hardon distinguishes from other kinds of judgments that we need to make.  If I see someone walk into a store, grab a coat, and run out, it would be absurd to suggest rash judgment takes place when I judge him to be committing an act of theft.  Fr. Hardon writes: "A sudden outburst of anger that we witness, or a gross failure in justice, or a glaring exhibition of vanity are objectively wrong, and we cannot reasonably deny the obvious." 

Now, I would imagine some readers will say that what they are witnessing with the shuffling of bishops and in other Church affairs in the news, there is a "gross failure in justice" going on.  I think Fr. Hardon might beg to differ.  There is public information and non-public information. Anything that comes from unnamed sources and makes it's way into the public sphere, is not the public information I'm speaking of.  That would be second-hand information.  When second-hand information comes from another bishop, it doesn't make it first-hand information, especially if they are not privy to *all* of the facts. 

What Fr. Hardon says next is very important in our discernment about judging any situation (emphasis in original):

Hasty imprudence in passing judgment on others is an innate tendency of fallen human nature. We are prone to generalize, without adequate premises, where others are concerned and draw sweeping conclusions about their weaknesses and limitations. It is just the opposite where we are concerned, where the tendency is to excuse and minimize, often in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

He then goes on to quote Matthew 7:3-5  saying Christ distinguished between these two tendencies when he talked about removing the log from our own eye before trying to remove the splinter from the eye of our brother. 

It used to be that you would hear people act on this kind of virtue, to minimize and excuse away the bad behavior of others (I'm not suggesting the behavior of Pope Francis or any other member of the hierarchy is bad; rather I'm suggesting people can act on what they presume to be bad behavior, which is just as bad or worse). These days, rash judgment seems to be the rule.  

Fr. Hardon then says something very important, "...Even if what he has done is conclusive proof of culpability or of defective character, charity forbids our despising a person or, what comes to the same thing, thinking ourselves superior because we are not like him." 

Read Fr. Hardon's entire discussion on calumny, detraction and rash judgment at the Real Presence website.  

You can find more of Fr. Hardon's teachings online in the archives at

What do we do? 

When anxiety hits over Church affairs, just go to an Adoration Chapel and hand it all over to Jesus, who is always aware of what is happening.  He also knows how these things play out in the long run.  Pray a Rosary and hand it over to Mary. Things may not be resolved the way we would like, but who can claim to know God's plan and how it will affect things long after we have gone before the Just Judge?

Some, when they pray, want specific things to happen.  This is like saying, "Your will Lord, as long as it is in harmony with mine."  I have always used that point when speaking of those who dissent openly from Church teaching.  Faithful Catholics pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked that the Chalice be taken from him, if it was his Father's will.  The Apostles couldn't understand it and they were scandalized. We should pray, not that our will be done, but that God's will be done, in all matters.  Then, leave it to God!

We risk offending God by falling into rash judgment and participating in calumny if we get too involved with affairs in the Church over which we have no control.  But, we remain blameless if we simply put it all in God's hands and go about our day pursuing holiness in very ordinary ways.  We can offer our anxiety and sufferings up for the Church.

That's what Catholics do.

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