Fine Line Between Condemnation and Courage

Today’s readings are often outshone by Joseph and his amazing coat. “Typical Joseph,” his brothers might say. However, there is so much more going on in these Scriptures. We see greed and vengeance, famine and slavery, terrified Pharisees, and that famous cornerstone. But what about Reuben the eldest of the twelve sons of Jacob? He’s easy to miss, yet there is so much we can learn from him. As the oldest brother, he tried to guide his brothers in their actions.

“We must not take his life. Instead of shedding blood,” he continued, “just throw him into that cistern there in the desert; but do not kill him outright.” (Genesis 37:22)

How often do we say this? Not those exact words, of course, but we say this in other ways. So often we tolerate a bit of sin to keep the peace. We stick our necks out just far enough that we can dissent quietly and still appear to be a part of the crowd.

I had a conversation with a woman once where she told me about her choice to surgically prevent more pregnancies in her marriage. I was not sure how to respond. I did not want to offend this woman, and I certainly did not want to come off as holier-than-thou, and turn her away from Christ. My response was something along the lines of, “Well, each family has to make its own decision.” Very diplomatic. I walked away feeling like I had expressed my approval of her actions because of my watered down and barely recognizable opposition.

How should I have handled that situation? Honestly, I am not sure. It’s something I need to pray about. Lord, how can I defend your commands yet still show mercy to those in need?

Reuben was trying to help all of his brothers to avoid a sinful act, but he lacked the courage to really stop their evil intentions. We are all called to help our brothers and sisters to avoid sin, but doing it courageously and with charity is often tricky. Often a situation passes us by before we realize what has happened. Let’s ask God for the wisdom and His help to know how to respond in those moments in which we are called to proclaim truth to others in a merciful way. Let us ask Him to guide us on that fine line between condemning and condoning their actions.

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Many of our past choices, those of family and friends around us, merit a merciful call to conversion. If you struggle with knowing what to say and how to say it, pray on it. Ask a trusted priest or spiritual advisor. Look to the Catechism for guidance.

Jenna Hines has a teeny army of children: Ellen, Samuel, Theodore, and Maryn and is married to a bearded fellow named Mike. She is happiest when it is sunny outside and she has an embroidery needle in her hand. You can find out more about her here


  • Reply
    March 2, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Jenna- this is something that I struggle with very much, and your commentary was perfectly directed toward my internal difficulties. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Jenna- this is something that I seem to struggle with- thank you for your commentary- it directly applied to my internal difficulties and gave me encouragement!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    This has been on my mind all day. Overall, I appreciate and understand what you are saying, but part of it also hit me in a very personal way… Each family does have to make their own decisions, often for reasons that others do not know or understand. Often these decisions are very difficult and painful. Perhaps there are medical reasons where pregnancy would be dangerous to the mother’s health, and/or she has to be on medications that would be very dangerous for a developing baby. Or maybe every last bit of strength and resources are going toward caring for a family member with special needs.

    Before I made that decision I prayed and cried and prayed and cried and prayed some more and discussed and considered all options with my husband and doctors. I have prayed and cried- alone and with my husband and with a priest, since. What would you say to me, how would you express your disapproval at my decision, either online or if we were to meet at a brunch or retreat?

    I sometimes wonder if I am not “Catholic enough” to really be part of this sisterhood.

    • Reply
      March 3, 2018 at 9:10 am

      I’m not the author but I feel inclined to tell you that you are always loved. Always a beloved child of God. We all sin, we all fall short daily.
      The issue discussed here affects more than you and your family. As evidenced in the old and new testaments, no sin is private, all things effect the body of Christ…?so there is a certain call for all sisters to speak truth, albeit with love, compassion and solidarity.

      What your inquire about is, like all sin, at its core, about trust.

      Medical issues, financial issues, health issues, all of these are no easy burden. But the cross Our Lord suffered for us calls us to suffering, to mortification, to die to self, to trust in Him.

      The act of closing off openness to life is never okay in the eyes of Christ except in the sense of abstaining. If such worries arise out of what a pregnancy would bring to your life, I would encourage you to consider what St Paul said regarding abstaining from things that cause us to sin.
      Sin is a hurting of our relationship with God, no matter the degree. God asks us to trust Him always and having sec but not being open to conceiving children, is telling God we don’t trust Him to carry us through.

      I pray for you and ask you to pray for me. I don’t have all the answers and we both are sinners, Praise God for new mercies.

      I am a genetic condition carrier and have one son with it (two daughters who may also be carriers, won’t know til they’re 18) and a 50% chance of passing on the gene. We have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Pregnancy is hard on me and I have had physical problems for years since a scary near death type experience c section.
      So there’s many days, actually several weeks that we abstain. But we are very connected and satisfied in our marriage, it’s taken a while to get to this place, but prayer and unity with God are graces we can all receive!

  • Reply
    March 2, 2018 at 11:35 pm

    Please remember the verse before the gospel…
    “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son;
    so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”
    Love, mercy, and forgiveness are blessings received from Christ to heal wounds. Sounds like you did diligent Catholic discernment and received marriage and spiritual support for such a difficult decision. Blessings to heal and feel love as our Catholic sister.

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