“It was in an old box with some pictures,” she said. “My mother found this award certificate from when I was nine years old. From Westwood Library—for 34 books read that summer.” That was nearly fifty summers ago.
“I took it to my father and you know what he said? ‘I doubt it.’”
I winced, then sighed. “You wonder why a father would say something like that to his daughter, why he couldn’t be happy or proud.”
“Oh, he’s a perfect Catholic,” she said.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Just a lot of judgment.”
It’s always sad when I hear stories about people who are “perfect” in their faith, and yet struggle to offer grace, kindness and love. It’s not a unique pattern, of course. Jesus spent half his ministry fending off the attacks of people who were “perfect” Jews and who took exception to the generosity and broad inclusion of this upstart rabbi.
It’s one of the dangers of becoming more religious, more “spiritual.” We can become self-righteous, thinking that because we have mastered the Bible or because we go to Mass every day or because we volunteer at a homeless shelter we have arrived—or at least we are a whole lot further down the road than some other people. We become judgmental.
You set the bar high, because after all this is all in the service of God! You start seeing malfeasance here and moral turpitude there, and you get judgy. Then invariably you start judging yourself.
It seems odd, that a person who feels she is far more righteous than others would judge herself, but that’s the clever way the ego works. While I am judging you, I am vulnerable to counter-judgment. Someone could say, “Oh yeah, well what about you? I know a few things about you that aren’t so perfect, little Miss Religious!” (It’s true—those closest to us always have the goods on us.) But if you’ve already condemned yourself, you’re safe. The message is: I’m not being any harder on you than I am on myself.
It’s why judgmental people are never happy.
The only escape from self-righteousness is to take to heart those wise words. “Judge not, that you be not judged. . . . Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice that log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:1, 3). When we stop judging we can immediately start enjoying. When your daughter brings you a fifty-year old library certificate of award for reading 34 books in a summer you can barely remember, you can just say, “Honey, you’ve always been remarkable.”