Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Imagine if someone came into the church right now,
and ran up this aisle waiving something looking like a gun in my direction.
What would you think?
What would you do?
I imagine some of you would think, “that guy’s going to hurt Father.”
And that some of you might decide to act—and maybe tackle the guy.
How judgmental of you.
Maybe he was just a crazy friend of mine
who wanted to give me a cigar he’s bought me.
Or maybe a policeman carrying a gun,
but just taking a shortcut through the church in hot pursuit of a suspect.
I know you have to struggle to “get” my sense of humor,
but I’m only kidding.
The point is, we all make judgments about things, situations and people.
This seems to runs contrary to popular notion that we can “never judge others.”
But think about it.
Think of how often you judge someone to be good and honest:
that’s okay, right?
Or think of parents, who have to judge which school to send their children to:
they consider all the facts and say this school is a better than that school.
You say, well it’s okay to judge things, but we shouldn’t judge people.
Well, what about a teenager
who’s thinking about hanging out with a group of kids at school,
but then he finds out they all do drugs?
Would you say, well, “but I really can’t judge them, so I’ll hang out with them”?
We all have to make judgments all the time, even about people.
Because a “judgment” is how we make good decisions and choices.
You say, but Father, Jesus, tells us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
That’s true, that’s in John’s Gospel.
But later on in the same Gospel Jesus says:
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” 2
So we can judge,
but there are some rules we have to follow to judge “rightly,” or morally.
To understand this better we can look at the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel
as he tells the woman at the well:
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Or as another translation puts it:
“the man you live with now is not really your husband.”
He has clearly judged her to be an adulteress.
But look at how he does this.
First Jesus goes out to meet her, and he talks to her.
In making a right judgment about anything, especially persons,
we have to first consider all the facts and circumstances,
and then rationally weigh them and come to a conclusion:
a “right judgment.”
When we fail to do that, we commit the sin usually called “rash judgment”
–we judge too quickly or without sufficient reflection.
We do this all the time.
For example, maybe you rēad an article in the paper that criticizes someone.
Do you then maybe consider the bias of that paper, or check other sources,
and then step back and consider everything objectively and fairly—justly?
Or do you just take the article at face value and accept the paper’s judgment?
Isn’t that a rash judgment?
Jesus of course has an advantage here:
he could read what was in people’s hearts.
He knew the truth about this woman even before he talked to her.
But we can’t read other people’s hearts.
We can see what people do, but not really why they do it:
what they were thinking, if they knew it was wrong,
if they were acting freely, what their intention was….
Which means we can never pass final judgment, or “condemnation,” on them
—only God can do that, because only God knows everything.
In that sense, sometimes we say,
you can judge the person’s actions, but not the person themselves.
Yet we do it all the time.
Think of what else Jesus does: he says to the woman at the well: 3
“If you knew …who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus judges her to be a sinner,
but even though he knows what’s in her heart,
he still withholds final judgment and condemnation.
Because he sees her as both worthy of his mercy,
and as capable of repentance.
Imagine if your babysitter invited her boyfriend over when you were gone,
you’d might be right not to let her babysit your kids anymore;
but you’d be wrong to say that she could never change,
or that God could never forgive her.
We always have to try to see others as Christ does:
if he died for all of us, we know he’ll never give up on any one of us.
He didn’t give up on the woman at the well, as he offered her the “living water.”
And he didn’t give up on the men who nailed him to the Cross, praying,
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So, like Jesus, even as we justly judge the actions of others to be sins,
and then even adjust how we interact with them,
we can never judge that they are unworthy of mercy or unable to repent.
Now, sometimes lately I’ve noticed that when someone, especially a Christian,
dares to even simply make a just judgment involving some moral issue,
someone else inevitably quotes Pope Francis.
I can just see the headlines:
“Priest opposes Pope Francis who says: “who am I to judge?””
The thing is, I agree with the Pope.
But, as when Jesus said, “judge not,” we need to look at the actual facts,
lest we be guilty of rash judgment of the Holy Father
when he famously said, back in July, “who am I to judge.”
When he said that Francis was responding to an accusation that many years ago
a particular Vatican priest had been an active homosexual.
The Holy Father responded that he had investigated the charges:
“And from this investigation….We did not find anything of that.”
In other words, he had gotten all the facts
and made a judgment of the priest’s objective acts!
But then Pope Francis went on to add, that in any case,
“if a person…commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives….” 4
That’s the context of his statement, “Who am I to judge?”
And he’s right: we can judge objective actions, as the Pope did,
but not the heart of the sinner,
or worthiness of mercy or ability to convert
–especially when he objectively seems to have repented his sin!
In Lent the Church calls us in a particular way to judge
—not to judge others, but to judge ourselves:
to recognize that we are sinners.
We need to look at the facts as they really are, without fear of what we’ll find.
In fact, while it’s true we can’t read other people’s hearts
—only God can do that—
we can, to some extent, read our own hearts.
We can look into our own hearts, and with the grace of Jesus Christ,
remember what we were thinking,
if we knew it was wrong, if we were acting freely,
what our intention was….when we committed our sinful acts.
In other words, we can be like the woman at the well,
who with the help of Jesus recognizes the full reality of her sins.
But notice something interesting about this story.
The woman never actually says she’s sorry or going to change
—she never actually repents.
And Jesus never actually forgives her.
Many great saints and theologians have assumed this, and that’s fine.
But it’s not there in the text.
Perhaps its left open on purpose, as an open invitation to the rest of us.
Jesus goes out to the well, and waits, all alone, for the sinful woman.
Every day in Lent the priest goes into the confession,
waiting all alone, for sinners.
And when they come, sinners tell the priest their sins.
Often times, they do so haltingly, nervously:
like the woman at the well, as she says quietly: “I have no husband.”
So many times the priest will gently but firmly push a little bit,
trying to help them to make a more complete confession,
or to help connect the dots of their sins to see certain patters more clearly. 5
Like Jesus saying, “Go call your husband”
or “You are right …the one you have now is not your husband.”
And like Jesus at the well, the priest must judge the sinner
—not to condemn her, but to forgive her.
And like Jesus, or rather, with Jesus,
the priest offers her the water of everlasting life to wash away her sins.
In Lent we’re all called to judge ourselves as sinners.
We don’t need to invent new sins,
imagining ordinary human behavior to be sinful,
like making just judgments about objective realities.
But we do need to look at our actions and into our hearts,
and admit the real sins we do commit,
including the sins against just judgment.
But even as we do that, we must never falsely judge anyone, including ourselves,
as being unworthy of Christ’s mercy, or unable to repent.
Because the Lord,
who knows the secrets of our hearts and judges all things justly,
mercifully never gives up in desiring that we repent.
If He went to the well to save the sinful woman,
and to the Cross to save the rest of us sinners,
He will not give up on us now.
This same St. John who wrote today’s Gospel
would later tell us of how he stood at the foot of the Cross
and personally saw “blood and water” flow from Christ’s pierced side,
clearly remembering Jesus’ promise to become
“a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Crucified Body Christ is that spring, and the water from that spring
flows out to fill the well that is the Sacrament of Penance.
In this Holy Mass, standing with St. John at the foot of the Cross
made present in the Eucharist,
let us beg our Lord to fill us with his grace
so that we might judge ourselves as clearly as he does,
and have the strength to go from this spring of the Cross
to the well of Confession,
to be washed clean in the waters of everlasting life.