Jesus said to his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:36–37
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his guide for a thirty-day retreat, has the retreatant spend the first week of the retreat focusing upon sin, judgment, death and hell. At first, this can seem very uninspiring. But the wisdom of this approach is that after a week of these meditations, retreatants come to a deep realization of just how much they need the mercy and forgiveness of God. They see their need more clearly, and a deep humility is fostered within their soul as they see their guilt and turn to God for His mercy.
But mercy goes both ways. It is part of the very essence of mercy that it can only be received if it is also given. In the Gospel passage above, Jesus gives us a very clear command about judgment, condemnation, mercy and forgiveness. Essentially, if we want mercy and forgiveness, then we must offer mercy and forgiveness. If we are judgmental and condemning, then we will also be judged and condemned. These words are very clear.
Perhaps one of the reasons that many people struggle with being judgmental and condemning of others is because they lack a true awareness of their own sin and their own need for forgiveness. We live in a world that often rationalizes sin and downplays the seriousness of it. That’s why the teaching of Saint Ignatius is so important for us today. We need to rekindle a sense of the seriousness of our sin. This is not done simply to create guilt and shame. It’s done to foster a desire for mercy and forgiveness.
If you can grow in a deeper awareness of your own sin before God, one of the effects will be that it is then easier to be less judgmental and condemning of others. A person who sees his sin is more apt to be merciful to other sinners. But a person who struggles with self-righteousness will most certainly also struggle with being judgmental and condemning.
Reflect, today, upon your own sin. Spend time trying to understand how ugly sin is and try to grow in a healthy disdain for it. As you do, and as you beg our Lord for His mercy, pray also that you will be able to offer that same mercy you receive from God to others. As mercy flows from Heaven to your own soul, it must then also be shared. Share the mercy of God with those all around you and you will discover the true value and power of this Gospel teaching of our Lord.
My most merciful Jesus, I thank You for Your infinite mercy. Help me to see clearly my sin so that I, in turn, may see my need for Your mercy. As I do, dear Lord, I pray that my heart will be open to that mercy so that I can both receive it and share it with others. Make me a true instrument of Your divine grace. Jesus, I trust in You.