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.