Some years ago, as I pulled my rental car into the parking lot of the Catholic parish where I would be giving a lecture that evening, I glanced up at the large, non-denominational Protestant church standing prominently on a nearby hill. What caught my eye was a large banner stretched across its facade that read in big, bold letters: GUILT SHOW.
“GUILT show? What’s a guilt show?” I asked myself, puzzled by the enigmatic message. It didn’t take long, though, before I had figured it out. Those Protestants up there on that hill were mocking Catholics, I reasoned indignantly. The folks who attend this parish have to see that banner every time they come to Mass. Why else would it be so prominently displayed?
“Guilt show” must obviously express those people’s disdain for the Catholic sacrament of confession. After all, those Protestants believe in the doctrine of eternal security: “once saved, always saved”. In other words, that “true Christians” cannot lose their salvation. They regard the Catholic emphasis on guilt and confession and examining one’s conscience to be wrong and unbiblical. So I was certain that that’s what the banner meant. Clearly, those Protestants up on the hill were mocking Catholics! I asked the parish secretary what she thought it meant. “Oh, I never really noticed it,” she said. But when I explained what I thought it meant, a look of dismay crossed her face. It had never occurred to her that the next-door neighbours up the hill might be making fun of her and her fellow Catholics.
I decided to “take the bull by the horns” and call the Protestant church to ask them directly about the banner. “Hi, I’m from out of town,” I told the friendly receptionist who answered the phone, “and I am curious about the banner you have out front. What does “guilt show” mean? Is it intended to be some kind of message for Catholics?” “Guilt show?” she asked, befuddled by my question. She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, you mean the QUILT show banner,” she chuckled. “Yes, we’re hosting a quilt show here next weekend and everyone’s invited.”
Boy, did I feel stupid. Sheepishly, I explained that the banner must have been folded a little – just enough to make the “Q” in “quilt” look like a “G” as in “guilt”. She said she’d have the janitor smooth it out so it would read properly. I thanked her and hung up, ashamed of myself for having so quickly jumped to the (totally erroneous) conclusion that “those Protestants” up on their hill were taunting Catholics. In my haste to account for the banner I had assumed ill-will on their part, concluding without any evidence that their motives were dishonourable.
I had done, albeit in a minor way, exactly what Jesus tells us not to do: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).
The memory of that incident has never left me. Ever since, whenever I have been tempted to assume the worst of others based solely on appearances, or impute bad motives to someone who disagrees with me, or judge other people’s hearts, I think of that banner. Maybe God intended it to read GUILT SHOW, just for me. After all, it showed me I had something in my eye. –
This article by Patrick Madrid was published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, January 2013 issue. Contact for subscriptions etc.: “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy.