Judging, Part 3 (Therese of Lisieux)

To apply the principles mentioned in the previous posts, of judging doubtful cases positively or favorably, without being negligent to remedy problems (which presupposes at least a tentative judgment), it is helpful to bear several things in mind: (1) our knowledge of ourselves and of others is always limited; (2) there is always some good to be found in everything; (3) recognizing this good is good for ourselves and for others; St. Therese of Lisieux says “We should always judge others with love, for often what seems to us to be negligence, is an heroic deed in God's sight.” (CS 107) And again:

Yes, I know when I show charity to others, it is simply Jesus acting in me, and the more closely I am united to Him, the more dearly I love my Sisters. If I wish to increase this love in my heart, and the devil tries to bring before me the defects of a Sister, I hasten to look for her virtues, her good motives; I call to mind that though I may have seen her fall once, no doubt she has gained many victories over herself, which in her humility she conceals. It is even possible that what seems to me a fault, may very likely, on account of her good intention, be an act of virtue. I have no difficulty in persuading myself of this, because I have had the same experience. (MsC, 12v/13r)

Regarding the second and third point, the possibility of seeing good in things, and the value of doing so, St. Therese says, speaking about circumstances generally, “I always see the bright side of things. There are people who always take everything from the most painful point of view. I do just the opposite. If I am faced with pure suffering; when heaven is so black that there is no bright spot to be seen anywhere, I then make that itself a source of joy” (DE 215/27.5). And about persons, “There is nothing sweeter than to think well of one’s neighbor,” (CS 25) and “Charity consists in disregarding the faults of our neighbor, not being astonished at the sight of their weakness, but in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice.”

Regarding the first point, the limitation of our knowledge, which never extends to a person's responsibility before God: “Even when there doesn't seem to be any excuse, we always have the possibility of saying: 'this person is obviously wrong, but she does not know it.'” (CS 107)

(4) A fourth point to keep in mind: love can be visible even in correcting, rebuking, etc., and we should strive to make it thus visible. St. Therese did not hesitate to speak the truth, even when it was not necessarily pleasant to hear: “I say the whole truth. If someone doesn't want to hear it, they shouldn't come to me.” (DE 203/18.4.3) Correcting in a loving manner does not mean that one does so in a “soft” manner, but that one does so not merely for the sake of abstract “rightness,” but of the person one corrects. St. Therese says:

In order that a reprimand bear fruit, we must give it dispassionately. When we have scolded a person, within the bounds of justice, let us stop there and not become soft-hearted, tormenting ourselves because we realize we have inflicted pain on someone. To run after the one we have thus afflicted, to console her, is to do her more harm than good. But when we leave her to herself, we force her to expect nothing from the human side, but to have recourse to the good Lord, recognize her faults, and humble herself. Otherwise we shall make her accustomed to being consoled after we have administered a deserved reproof, and she will then act like a spoiled child which jumps with rage and cries, knowing that this will make his mother come to him and wipe away his tears.I know, my Mother, that your little lambs consider me severe… The little lambs may say what they please. Fundamentally they feel that I love them with a genuine love.

This remark of St. Therese can be taken as complementary to the point mentioned in the previous post about St. Catherine, and the identification and sympathy with a person that helps us to form judgments in the appropriate loving manner. Love and correction are not contraries, as though love were the counterbalance to the correction of another person; rather love is to be shown in the very act of correction, and the act of correction is to be moved by and ordered to love. If that is not possible at a given moment, perhaps because we have strong feelings about an issue, we should if at all possible wait before speaking.

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