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I had an uncle who had served in the army during the Second World War, and who never tired of telling stories about his experiences in the service. One story that I remember with particular amusement was about a routine inspection carried out on a small base by the newly arrived commanding officer.

As the full colonel walked briskly by the soldiers lined up before him, he came to a sudden and unexpected halt. Looking at a young private standing before him, the colonel shouted, "Button that pocket, soldier!" The soldier, visibly shaken by this confrontation replied, "Shall I do it right now, sir?" "Of course, right now!" was the immediate reply. In response, the soldier very carefully reached out and buttoned the flap on the colonel's shirt pocket.

For some reason, this kind of behavior is typical of us all; we are quick to condemn the errors of others, and exceedingly slow to recognize our own. Somehow, it is always easier to see someone else's unbuttoned pocket. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemned this behavior when He asked the question, "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?" (Matt. 7:3) as well as when He commanded, "Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you." (Matt. 7:17).

This fundamental principal of the spiritual life is a great benefit to us all. When it is not respected, it leads to animosities and resentment from those who find themselves the objects of our stern judgements. At the same time, it deflects our attention from the desperate need to correct our own numerous shortcomings. We need to take care, therefore, that we not pass judgement on others, and use the time thus gained in the useful pursuit of buttoning our own pockets!

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