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One of the most often quoted Scripture passages comes from chapter seven of Matthew's Gospel: "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."

I attended a Saturday vigil Mass in a church adjacent to a local university. A few pews in front of me sat a disheveled young man, evidently a college student. As the congregation stood for the Gospel, he pulled out his cell phone and started playing with it.

Across the aisle, I observed a middle-aged couple take notice of the young man. The wife nudged her husband and he looked over at the distracted teenager, shaking his head in disgust. He whispered in her ear and she in his, and they both continued to stare disapprovingly in his direction.

I watched the couple glare at the unfocused student. I remember judging their actions, believing their reaction was excessive. Not only did the young man miss out on the Word of God, but so too did the wife and husband.

And so did I! This, I suppose, is the moral of the story: I was so busy looking at the splinter in this couple's eyes that I failed to notice the beam in my own. Their preoccupation with passing judgment on the iPhone-addicted student, meanwhile, was to their mutual spiritual detriment.

Ultimately, all four of us were losers in this situation.

A vital part of formation for seminarians is learning to recognize one's own faults. It's like a refinery burning away impurities in gold or silver, cleansing these precious metals of imperfections. It is not easy, and yes, like the refinery's fire, sometimes it burns and is painful, but it is essential for growth.

As a future pastor, I will tend to the needs of my flock, but I must make sure that I do not let my personal failings lead to the loss of any sheep. If there is one thing I know about the Good Shepherd, it is that He loves every one of His sheep!

Though the story I shared involved a minor incident, the recognition that I sometimes judge others too harshly was a "eureka" moment for me. It is one of a number of weaknesses I need to work on, through prayer and spiritual counseling, to be an effective leader in God's Church.

Incidentally, I read the Gospel passage I missed after Mass. It was the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18. Message received loud and clear, Lord!

(Mr. McHale, a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.)