The lessons in ‘knowing better’By: Bishop James V. Johnston
“This is the way, walk in it.” –Is 30:21
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was one of my first lessons in stewardship–not of money, but of myself, my choices, and who I would become. I don’t remember the exact incident, but I and one of my younger sisters got into trouble. As the oldest, I was reprimanded. When I asked about why my younger sibling was not also being reprimanded, I received the answer, “She doesn’t know any better.”
Over the years, I have come to realize the implications of “knowing better.” With an awareness–a form of stewardship, not of money, but of something much greater: our very selves. As Christians, once we know the way concerning the right thing to do, we should walk in it; after all, we know better.
Along with this “stewardship of oneself,” we also ought to be less quick to judge someone else; after all, he or she may not know better. In the end, only God knows what someone knows, which is why he is the only one fit to judge a person.
This does not mean that we cannot judge a person’s actions. We certainly can, through observation, see that an act is good or evil; we just cannot know if the person doing the action “knows better.” This is an important distinction to make. Very often, I meet people who are reluctant to take a stand on a moral issue, for fear of being judgmental. But we have to make moral judgments–of acts, not people.
Ignorance is not bliss
Some might say, “Well, I don’t want the weight of all that moral responsibility, so I just won’t bother forming my conscience; that way, I can’t be held accountable.” It doesn’t work that way. I learned a similar lesson as a child. On several occasions, after getting into trouble, my parents would tell me, “You should know better!”
In effect, my parents were pointing out to me that as I grew up, I had a responsibility “to know better,” to learn right from wrong, and to be eager to learn what a Christian moral life was all about. That’s why they taught me, and also expected the Catholic school I attended to teach me. If I didn’t know better, I wasn’t responsible and accountable. My parents knew that if I did not learn about morality and strive to shape my conscience by the truth, not only would I be miserable, but I would make a lot of other people in the world miserable too.
Jesus told his disciples, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). This “life” that Jesus speaks of is the new life of grace, and it is lived according to the way that Jesus revealed in his words and deeds, and is handed on to us by the Church. This “life” must be learned, and then lived.