The Importance of Right Judgement

In the ancient prayer for the Consecration to a Life of Virginity attributed to St Leo, there is a petition for the gift of ‘modesty with right judgement, kindness with true wisdom’. How do the stories about Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron currently being circulated by the media measure up to that? Are they helpful? Do they do anything more than satisfy a desire for curiosity or titillation? A man may commit adultery then later learn the importance of fidelity. The stupidities of youth do not necessarily define or last into middle-age. In short, why are we wasting time on the past lives of our politicians when it is their present actions that are most important? True, one may argue that being a philanderer or a drunkard in one’s youth, for example, may lay one open to blackmail/corruption in later life, but I suspect most of us have done or said things which, if they were to be laid against us now as the key to our character or actions, would seem seriously wide of the mark. So, what is this thing called ‘right judgement’? How does it operate? Why does it matter?

I would argue, first and foremost, that right judgement is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is reason informed by grace — a human quality which can be nurtured through prayer, reading, reception of the sacraments and, above all, by practice. It is another name for the gift of counsel, and it is one we stand in need of every day of our lives. We often have to make choices between two or more apparently good things. But we also have to make choices in grey areas, where nothing seems particularly good or bad. Take the stories about Corbyn and Cameron again. Aren’t they inconsequential, read today, forgotten tomorrow? Yes and no. Imperceptibly, they shape our opinion of the two men and, as such, have more importance than might at first appear. We actually have to bring our judgement to bear on the matter, which means deciding how significant they are. We can’t just absorb and ignore.

To exercise judgement with modesty, admitting that we may not always be the best of judges, that not everything is helpful, leads inevitably to that kindness and wisdom of which St Leo speaks. They are qualities we tend to prize in others rather than ourselves. Wouldn’t it be useful to spend a moment or two thinking about how we could cultivate them in our own lives? Right judgement isn’t a rarefied spiritual quality; it is a very practical one.

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10 thoughts on “The Importance of Right Judgement”

  1. I may not get this saying exactly right – “we don’t see things as they are but as we are”. A judge in a courtroom has the law of the land to rely upon but must also use discernment. In choosing between political candidates, often our allegiance to a political philosophy, outweighs the candidates’ individual qualities. A clear head and a dispassionate stance are essential, I think, in making wise choices.

  2. I have not much liking for either man. However holding the sins of their youth against them is not discernment. Can those sins inform us of how they might act now? Unlikely. We all sinned in our youth, we went badly astray. Some of us took until our fifties to recognise how badly astray we went. If we do, and if we have the right guides, w can reclaim ourselves. The problem with most politicians is that they seem never to have had the right guides to reform themselves properly. So we are stuck with essentially secular atheists whose moral compass is decidedly doubtful. That is the problem for the Christian – he is constantly trying to discern between evils. To this end he clutches at anything he can find to help him decide. Without serious discernment we are lost at sea.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Fr. Michael. I agree – mostly. However, I do take issue with “essentially secular atheists whose moral compass is decidedly doubtful”. Christians do not have a mortgage on moral compasses. Atheists are not believers, but that doesn’t mean they cannot possess a moral compass that works.

  3. The right devotion on right time. Very nutritive
    Right judgement in lives of many people including me is missing and make us to loose graces from God

    God help us to learn from this

  4. I’m not entirely sure whether to like this piece because of its profound wisdom on judgement or regard it as suspect because it uses pigggate as a peg to hang it all on.

    The question ‘Do they do anything more than satisfy a desire for curiosity or titillation?’ can in part be answered by the fact that you wrote this on the back of – as yet unproven – allegations, which even the authors of the book are careful not to state as factual, merely that they are repeatedly in circulation.

    I think on balance I’m inclined to regard it as a wise piece of writing, whilst at the same time wishing you hadn’t written it.

    • One way of making people think, if that is not too arrogant an ambition, is to make use of what is current and use it to stimulate thought about some of the questions it raises. I have, in fact, said nothing about piggate except to urge caution in judgement — something I think those gleefully discussing it have forgottten, which rather underlines my point, don’t you think? I’m sorry you don’t like my having written the post, but we tend to be fairly direct and unsqueamish in monasteries. Another word might be ‘blunt’.

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