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All Have Fallen Short of the Glory of God – A Reflection on the Need to Remember That Heroes Are Still Human

July 19, 2015

Throughout my youth, my father had many teachings and expressions that we came to call “dad-isms.” They were memorable little sayings packed with truth. One of them I recall him saying to me in the aftermath of a disappointment I had experienced regarding a friend. He simply said, “Charlie, people disappoint.”

Yes, they do. We need not be cynics to understand and accept that people cannot always come through for you. Sometimes they let you down and even shock you. It is a hard but freeing truth. Human beings struggle, are imperfect, and even have mighty falls. But that doesn’t mean we should be fearful or refuse to trust others at all. However, we do need to be sober because “People disappoint.”

The recent allegations against Bill Cosby seem to have been confirmed now, even by him. Disappointment, shock, and anger have been common responses.

But allow a moment like this to cause us all to reflect on our own national (and personal?) tendency to size people up based on very little real information. We often ask public figures to fulfill our idealistic (but unrealistic) notions and be the people of our dreams.

Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments. Idealizing our “heroes” can cause us deep hurt. Some of these hurts and shocks can be prevented, or at least lessened, by prayerful and careful discernment as we go through life.

Discernment is a spiritual discipline that is important for us to develop in our Christian walk. The word “discern” is derived from the Medieval Latin word cernere, meaning to sift, separate, or distinguish. Hence, discernment is a discipline that counsels us to make careful distinctions and to avoid rash conclusions.

Yes, it is an often-troublesome human tendency to “size things up” too quickly, before we really have all the information and can carefully sift, separate, and distinguish. There is also the tendency to make conclusions that are too sweeping or simplistic, given the limited information we have. We do this in the case of both people and situations.

Regarding people, too often we like to assess them quickly and put them into one category or another. For example, we may conclude that “Jane is a really wonderful person!” based on just a few interactions with her or on very limited information.

We do this a great deal with the famous personalities and “heroes” of our culture, seeing them in broad and simplistic ways. In fact, we usually know very little about them at all other than what we see in a rather cursory and public way. In lionizing and idealizing people, we are often setting ourselves up for deep disappointment. And this disappointment is rooted in our rushed and simplistic judgments about people.

The fact is, people are generally a mixed bag, often possessed of great gifts, yet afflicted by human weaknesses and flaws. Scripture says, No one is good but God alone (Mk 10:18 inter al). It also says, For God regards all men as sinners, that he may have mercy on all (Rom 11:23). This the human condition: gifted but flawed.

Hence, we do well to carefully discern, to sift, sort, and distinguish when we assess one another. Not all things or people are as they first appear. And no one should be regarded simplistically. We are usually a complicated mix of gifts and struggles.

In Scripture, there is the story of Samuel, who was sent by God to find and anoint a king among Jesse’s sons. Arriving and seeing the eldest and strongest of the sons, Samuel was quick to conclude that he must be the one to be anointed:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:6).

Samuel was eventually led to anoint the youngest and least likely of the brothers, David.

Here are some other references from Scripture:

  1. Call no one blessed before his death, for by his end shall a man be known (Sir 11:28).
  2. Paul cautions Timothy, Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure … Remember, the sins of some men are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later (1 Tim 5:22,24).
  3. Sometimes we fail to note the gifts of others. Scripture says, So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! (2 Cor 5:16)

Discernment regarding people ought to proceed with careful deliberation, so that we resist the urge to quickly size them up or categorize them. We should exercise careful discernment that is ongoing, charitable, and sober.

Regarding situations, the rush to judgment is also to be avoided. Often we do not have all the facts and so our judgment can be both rash and wrong. We often think we know the whole story when in fact we do not.

Likewise it is often easy to take sides quickly in disputes and to assess blame in simplistic ways. In marriage counseling, for example, I have learned to resist the urge to be too sympathetic toward one spouse or the other. In the past I would tend to be more sympathetic to the one who had called to make the appointment, and whose side I had heard the most of already. But a one- sided pancake is pretty thin; there’s always another side. Very few marriages are in trouble because one is a saint and the other is the devil. There are usually issues on both sides; there is both bad and good in each of them.

Thus, as with people, the assessment of situations also requires discernment, the careful sorting, sifting, and distinguishing of many things.

Disclaimer – Discernment should be seen as a middle ground between quickly claiming we know everything, and claiming we can know nothing at all. The need for discernment does not mean that there is no truth to be found, or that we are locked away in a purely subjective and relativistic world where no judgments can be made at all. Rather, it is a caution against making sweeping, simplistic, or rash judgments that are not based on things we really know; it is a call to sobriety. People and situations are usually more complicated than we first grasp, and it takes time to make proper assessments.

Some (including me) have criticized the Church for not operating at the breakneck speed of the modern world. We often want quick and bold statements to be issued. We want rapid responses and bold initiatives made in response to every issue that emerges. Of themselves, these desires are not wrong, but they need to be balanced with an appreciation that discernment is often accomplished at slower speeds than we would like. A quick response may sometimes be desired and even necessary, but there is something to be said for following the priority of the important rather than the urgent. Careful discernment is important and has its place.

To discern: to sift, separate, or distinguish.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Well said.

  2. Cynthia W. says:

    “Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.”

    Very insightful.

  3. kelso says:

    Thank you Monsignor. In my experience with spousal problems, there are always two sides, but as I have learned one side is less to blame than the other. Fallen nature always wants to even the score somehow and thus exacerbating the conflict. Takes a lot of humility (grace) for the more offended party to suffer it up. And only in that will there be a reconciliation.

  4. C Beltz says:

    The Bill Cosby situation is so indicative of our unforgiveness as a culture. We placed him high on a pedestal because of his good deeds, because of his ability to entertain us. Did any of that disappear because of his personal failings? No. He is still the guy with the comedy albums that made us laugh hysterically in the 70’s. He is still the patriarch of the Cosby Show, a show we all enjoyed in the 80’s. Those things are still funny.

    FF to now, when some women from his PAST come forth to denounce him for his PAST actions. From what I have read, these women settled their issues with him back at the time of occurrence via monetary compensation. So why re-hash the past? Did he do it to them again? Did they run out of money? Was he nominated for some sort of purity award?

    Guess what, no matter what he did to them, he did not do it to me. I was not drugged, I did not take money for having been assaulted instead of pressing criminal charges. None of what that man did with or to those women, whatever it was, has anything to do with me. He did not sin against me and I never idolized him. He has nothing to atone to me for. I do, however pity him. Not because of the current vitriol being spewed his way (it’s probably not too out of line), but because he is a flawed man, like the rest of us. He made many mistakes, like the rest of us. He has not asked forgiveness, and as such it will bind him until he does.

    I pity us because we have placed ourselves in the role of judge and jury and failed to see a sinner not unlike ourselves. We fail to forgive, as we have been forgiven. We fail to look at the entire picture of this man, to see that he, like the rest of us, is a creation of God, and has the ability for both good and evil within. We fail to love the sinner. We fail to love as Jesus loves us. He sinned, like the rest of us. But due to our rather near-sighted judgements, we look at him with disdain, we proclaim our superiority over him by demanding his donated paintings be removed from museums; by demanding he no longer frequent restaurants he helped make famous. We (once again) are trying to erase the past (his past) because we no longer want to look at it. We remain bound to the sin by our unforgiveness and pretending the past does not exist cannot free us. Only forgiveness can.

    *****

    Regarding marital disagreements, it is easy for one spouse to look worse than the other if one really messes up. Thing is, as there are two in the marriage, that is likely not reality. The subtle (hidden) sins of the offended spouse are often more destructive than the offender. Both have sinned, but where one may have been a single heinous (visible) act, the other sin, the subtle one, often weaves its way throughout the fabric of the marriage. It can be anger, fear, jealousy, you name it.

    Humility is so very necessary for all concerned in marital troubles. We must take stock of our own failings, we must remove the rose colored glasses we view our own pasts through and accept that we are in fact, not perfect, that the road to the big no-no was traveled by BOTH parties. Only then will the foundation for the reconnection be set to commence.

    • Gary Lockhart says:

      Have you witnessed any contrition whatsoever out of Bill Cosby or his wife Camille who knew what he was doing, looked the other way while it was occurring and enabled his criminal behavior?

      “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Luke 12:57

  5. Darren says:

    G.K. Chesterton said (can’t remember which book) that the Church moved so slow that by the time She declared the heresy, the heresy itself had played out because lies cannot sustain themselves.

    But this time, I believe is different. Science is allowing what wouldn’t have been possible to allow it to die naturally.

    When science allows the creation of a new human body, the impossibility of two men or two women raising a child together is now made possible and the law allows such a chimera.

    The Church needs to move faster in this case. Otherwise, this storm will only be contained by Christ’s second coming.

  6. Katherine M ERT says:

    Your dad was and is absolutely correct. My disappointment has always been when people don’t e-mail, call back, text back or otherwise write back at all and I’ve waited a significant amount of time for a response (anywhere from a few weeks to a month). I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that many things get in the way of giving a response, and some people just plain forget to respond. I learned that some of my friends won’t even check their voicemails for weeks – so if you want them to call you, you’d better remind them to check, pretty much! That’s my little disappointment in life.

    It’s definitely true that in regards to expecting great things out of the celebrities, that we really know nothing about them except what we see publicly. And that is a great point on working with marriage/premarital counseling. It can be very easy to take sides without knowing all of the facts. We never really know what people are struggling with unless they tell us personally.