June 22, 2020
Monday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
(Optional Memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More)
(Optional Memorial of St. Paulinus of Nola)
First Reading: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15A, 18
Responsorial: 60:3, 4-5, 12-13
Alleluia: Hebrews 4:12
Gospel: Matthew 7:1-5
The 1966 movie A Man for All Seasons depicts the life and martyrdom of St. Thomas More, who had been the Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. Following a dispute with Pope regarding the denial of an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the King moved to separate the Church in England from Rome by having Parliament declare him “Supreme Head of the Church of England.”
The King required that all high officials in England sign an Oath of Supremacy acknowledging the King’s sole jurisdiction over ecclesiastical life in the realm. Thomas More resigned his position rather than sign the oath which went against the Catholic faith. He also refused to attend the wedding of the King to his mistress Anne Boleyn, as the marriage would invalid under canon law. The King is offended by More’s apparent “snubbing” of him and has him arrested as a traitor.
At the trial, More is being examined by the prosecutor who alleges that he has committed treason by failing to acknowledge the King’s Supremacy over the Church in England and the legitimacy of the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. More replies that he has never spoken a word publicly against the King’s position in either respect. The prosecutor acknowledges the fact, but argues, in context, that his silence speaks volumes and amounts to a denial of the King’s title and right. To which More eloquently responds, “The maxim of the law is, ‘Silence gives consent.’ If, therefore, you wish to construe what my silence betokened you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.” Nonetheless, More is convicted by other corrupt testimony and is executed for treason.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells his disciples: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” There are many meanings and interpretations given to this passage by different Christians, some of them wrong. Contrary to what some may think, it does not teach that it is un-Christian to ever make any moral judgment of another person’s actions.
But what everyone should be able to acknowledge is that Jesus teaches in this passage that humility ought to inform our judgment of others as well as ourselves. One practical way that we can put our Lord’s counsel into practice is to recognize the inequitable way that we are apt to interpret the words or actions of others versus how we want our own behavior to be interpreted.
Like Thomas More’s accusers, we are often put the most uncharitable interpretation on another’s words and actions, or lack thereof. For example, if someone doesn’t compliment something we did that we feel is noteworthy, we assume they are jealous, ungrateful, or unfriendly. If someone is late, we presume they are lazy or inconsiderate. If someone fails to successfully accomplish a task we assign them, we jump to the conclusion that they are incompetent or unmotivated. Yet the reverse is true in how we want our words and actions to be received by others. We always demand to be judged by others according to the supposed nobility of our ultimate intentions rather than by our actual deeds which fall short of the mark.
The solution to this is to always strive to give the most charitable or sympathetic interpretation to another’s behavior. There are times, of course, when further facts will overturn this presumption. But this initial “presumption of innocence” is a requirement of justice in all of life, not just a courtroom formality. Conversely, when it comes to ourselves, we should recall the words of Jesus: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” Most of us are too ready to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.
Recognize that being Christian calls upon us to err on the side of the tender consciences of others. As St. Paul said, “When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ.” Thus, we should not consider it an imposition that we might sometimes go out of our way to express appreciation for another’s work, rather than merely to presume that they presume our appreciation because have not said anything to the contrary. We should apologize and explain why we are late rather than assume that it’s nothing for the other person to complain about.
It’s a sad truth of fallen human nature that the beams in our own eye appear smaller to us than the splinter in another’s eye. Thus, we must develop a sense of overcompensation, taking our own faults more seriously and having a greater magnanimity to the faults of others.