I ponder Pope Francis’s most famous question, “Who am I to judge?” Initially I was left curious when my Canadian cousin Conor struck up a conversation about these words. My ears were then wide-open when I heard the pope’s full story on the television.
More recently, Francis explained his words: “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.” Understood in this way, I found his original question just wonderful along with such respect for the core identity of gay people.
I also ponder a few statements from the 79-year-old Argentinian. The hairs on my head stood tall when he judged Donald Trump: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” I don’t know about you but this is strong language from the Argentinian leader, not something we’re used to in our ‘non-judgemental’ western society. Wouldn’t we be labelled as being too harsh or critical with this kind of communication?
The Pontiff is also known for his straight talking sermons: “I will tell you sincerely, I’m scared of rigid priests,” he said. “I keep away from them. They bite!” He punches power with simple images that resonate with ordinary people, surely we know of overly pious religious who do not help the masses with their neuroticism. Or consider his warning against poor communication: “If you get an urge to say something against a brother or a sister, to drop a gossip bomb, bite your tongue! Hard!” he said in Vatican City.
And in their published letter-exchange, when nine-year-old Alejandra from Peru asked about the devil and suffering, the pope declared: “The devil is a loser and has been defeated. The devil is a loser – don’t forget it!”
As we come together this month to wear green ribbons for sound mental health, we need not look far for help whereby most organisations will tell you that they listen in a non-judgemental way. Is this really the case? Are we not hardwired with prejudices? I think that the best our professionals can do is to make an effort not to judge the sacred nature of vulnerable clients. Mindfulness techniques, hugely popular in Ireland, aim to allow people’s thoughts and feelings to come and go.
We’re in a bit of a pickle with regards the concept of judgement; we say that we don’t judge but we do it all the time. We make assertions on Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and Catholics on sex; we form opinions on the latest reality show stars; and we criticise the management of the refugee crisis. And understandably so because we are human, and we have our own unique combination of opinions.
Pope Francis is a straight talker. He does not intend to trample on people’s toes, rather he delivers objective, authoritative, and wise opinions for the sound mental health of the general population. There’s no point fretting about making judgements in this way; and we will be judged in the last judgement, as envisioned in the book of Revelation, by our deeds, and not by our words.