This quote reminds me that sin can creep up in the most unexpected of places if I am not watchful, and to also never proudly assume I know exactly what anyone else is going through or has endured. There’s a difference between judging a person’s actions and judging their soul. We leave the latter to God because (at least in this earthly life) we cannot completely know another person’s soul.
Understanding the context of this quote is important. It isn’t a call for relativism nor a call to arms against organized religion. St. John was ordained a Carmelite priest, and he is speaking of spiritual directors who let pride get in the way of helping their penitents. He is exhorting his fellow Christians not to be proud, an inherent danger of received wisdom and gifts. If we forget the source of these, we can get lost, veering off the unique path God invites each of us to walk.
Not All Those Who Wander are Lost
Sometimes the unique path God has set out for others can cause us distress, especially when we see someone we love willfully going down a questionable path. This excerpt from Parable Magazine comments on the subject of children no longer being religious but instead being spiritual, but it can bring comfort regardless of the relation to your loved one:
When “lapsed” children claim to be “spiritual” while not worshipping with us or rejecting some Church teachings, we should affirm their continuing search, which may be sincere, even Spirit-directed.
Jesus, of course, touched on this precise point. He said to Nicodemus, a seeker of truth: “The spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
All baptized “ex-Catholics” have been “born of the Spirit,” and so we must trust that every spiritual impulse has something to do with God. Here the great line from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings applies: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Tolkien, a devout Catholic, always promoted joyful hope.
Nonetheless, we must firmly acknowledge that God has indisputably willed the existence of religion. Perhaps an analogy will help. In order to give water to a thirsty child, one must have a cup, bottle or some other receptacle. If the abundant fresh water of a lake cannot be brought to the mouth of the child then the water is useless. Religion is the “cup” of spirituality.—Parable, July/August 2018 Volume 12 Issue 1
Likewise, all people are of clay,
and from earth humankind was formed;
In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them,
and he designated their different ways.
Some he blessed and exalted,
and some he sanctified and drew to himself.
Others he cursed and brought low,
and expelled them from their place.
Like clay in the hands of a potter,
to be molded according to his pleasure,
So are people in the hands of their Maker,
to be dealt with as he decides.—Sirach 33:10-13 (NABRE)