"It is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's tribunal."
In today's epistle, Saint Paul reminds us that the Ultimate judge; in fact the only Judge that we must really be concerned about is Almighty God. What he is suggesting is that is God alone who can look at the good and bad deeds of our lifetimes, and decide upon our just reward or just punishment. No one else; not parents, not friends, not priests, not bishops, not even the pope is in the position to take our actions and weigh them in the balance of God's justice and mercy, and determine our eternal fate.
In fact, elsewhere our Lord Himself warns those who would presume to be judgmental of others, as He says, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (Mt. vii)
St. Paul takes that even a step further in saying, "I do not even judge myself."
I mention these things, because there is a danger here if we interpret the words "to judge" or "judgment" too broadly. Our Lord is telling us that we are not the ones who will decide the eternal fate of people's souls. Neither He nor Saint Paul is telling us that we should condone bad behavior or fail to praise good behavior in those around us. There is a distinction between judgment, and what we call fraternal correction.
If we saw someone about to harm themselves physically, or to harm another person, we wouldn't think twice about admonishing them-telling them to stop, or to do things in a safer way. In this sense, there is no difference between physical harm and moral harm. If we see someone doing something morally wrong, we are quite correct in reminding them that there is a better way to behave. We are not judging the thief when we tell him not to steal, we are not judging the liar when we tell him to tell the truth, we are not judging the person whom we remind of their duty to attend Mass on Sundays-we are simply correcting them for their own benefit.
Saint Paul said he "didn't even judge himself." That is correct, in that Paul could not weigh the final outcome of his life from God's perspective. But certainly, Paul must have examined his own conscience in order to keep his spiritual life on track; Paul must have evaluated his successes and failures as a missionary preacher in order to become more effective. Indeed for Paul and for everyone else, life ought to be a series of self examinations and self corrections.
The duty of fraternal correction, of course, goes beyond ourselves. The word "fraternal" tells us that it goes at least to the members of our family. Parents are responsible for their children; spouses for each other; godparents for their godchildren; uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and so on. Those relationships and responsibilities are pretty obvious.
But fraternal correction extends, at least to some degree, to the others around us; to friends, and co-workers, and fellow students, and fellow parishioners, and so on. Again, not because we are judging them, or telling them that they are lesser people than we are, but rather because they are in a sense our "brothers." They are people whom we love because of that Second Great Commandment; because we love God, we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that we have a responsibility to correct those whom we elect to political office. In a very real sense, they are "an extension of ourselves," acting on our behalf. Failure to correct them is almost like failing to correct ourselves.
And, lest we forget, it is a good idea to praise the same people whom we would correct for a fault, whenever they do something that is good. We all know how positive reinforcement often does more than punishment.
Praise those who do good, and correct those who do wrong--but do not judge.