Today's Gospel hits a really sore spot: the themes of judgment and condemnation. With the mass murders at Virginia Tech (including the suicide of the perpetrator), there will come the usual post-massacre type conversations about forgiveness, and a kind of corporate tip-toeing around anything that smacks of judgment. (Being judgmental is the mortal sin of our society.)
But judgment is an essential exercise of our intelligence! It is how we learn social values, how we make moral decisions and how we evaluate things on a deeper level than mere cause and effect. We cannot avoid making judgments without abdicating a level of responsibility for society. St. Thomas said, "Judgment is primarily the definition or determination of what is just.... "
But what does "being judgmental" mean? In our novitiate classes, we had a course in what was called "Christian asceticism." The textbook was a classic (that is, very old and revered) work by Tanquerey. If I remember correctly, we were taught that "rash judgment" was a sin. Rash judgment is not merely "being judgmental" ). Rash judgment is the imputing of motives to another person: for example, that person did such-and-such because he/she wants to get back at the boss. In this case, there is more than a simple "judgment" based on adequate external evidence: the conclusion goes beyond the external evidence and declares a motive which can only be known to the other person and God. That is rash judgment. But too often, people are accused of "being judgmental" because they venture to say that what someone else did was "wrong."
Heavens, how else can the moral order be applied in concrete matters? If a person continually makes judgments like this, however, on the basis of hearsay, or in matters that have absolutely no relation to themselves and their own need to function and make decisions within a society (say, at the office), they are not within the bounds of right judment. Lack of sufficient information also threatens right judgment. But we cannot eliminate judgment from our lives and expect to progress rationally.
Judgment is a dimension of prudence, and the resolution of issues like those raised this week at Virginia Tech is going to have to involve a measure of judgment.