Friday, October 28, 2005

Have You No Shame?

No one really likes shame or guilt, especially if you are the source. Who would disagree? However, can you appreciate the value of those emotions? As I get older, I sense more folks pooh-poohing guilt. Even if this feeling I have is way off target, I'm sure most of you know someone (however close or distant) who believes shame and guilt to be outmoded feelings... emotions whose time has come and gone.

I remember a sermon from one of my parish priests regarding Catholic guilt. The very words 'Catholic guilt' probably conjure a negative image. You might even feel a sense of disdain for any Catholic who would even think of imposing their values and morals upon another, forcing him to feel unneccessary guilt. Well, our priest took it upon himself to illustrate how Catholic guilt was good.

Maybe you are a Catholic reading this right now. Perhaps a Jew or a fallen away Catholic. (Maybe a "recovering Catholic", as the ever-so-witty phrase goes by anti-Catholic former Catholics... how clever you are.) You might remember your grandmother laying a guilt trip on you for mot visiting her recently, not going to Church or Temple, or not seeing your family over Easter or Yom Kippur. How can guilt have any good?

I doubt you need a Catholic or Jewish grandmother to feel guilt. She might remind you of that little voice you hear when you do something you know is wrong... but you knew in the first place. Even as a child you know when you are doing wrong or when your motives were not honorable (inspite of what you told yourself).

Guilt merely reminds us of loyalty or obligations to others that we are failing to uphold. Some folks work hard to bury their guilt... to forgive themselves. I've actually heard of people forgiving themselves for heineous sins. What hubris! The height of arrogance... to forgive yourself before you have sincerely reflected upon the wrong you commited. You must also admit your wrong-doing to the people you have crossed and then seek forgiveness from them!

Guilt is Good (from Jewish News of Greater Phoenix) or On Days of Awe, don't feel guilty about feeling guilty--guilt's good (from Jewish News Weekly)
Guilt is like a pain that lets you know you need to go to the doctor before the situation gets worse. Guilt is an early warning system, a light on your dashboard telling you to pull into a mechanic and check things out.

Rosh Hashana is all about facing our guilt head-on. We may be able to ignore it, obscure it, justify it all year, but when Rosh Hashana rolls around, there's no more running, no place to hide.

The Postitive Aspects of Guilt (from Mental Health Matters)

So in what sense is guilt good for you? Guilt, when applied to behavior, is the little alarm system that tells us when we are not living up to our own standards. Where our standards come from, and how much ours are like others', are beside the point for now. Guilt is what we feel when we have let ourselves down. Without it, we would be in an amoral world in which everyone could act on the impulse of the moment. Guilt, not agriculture or the wheel, may be the foundation of civilization.

And how to make sure that guilt only lasts a few minutes? I believe the Catholic Church teaches that forgiveness of sins requires two things: sincere repentance, and a firm intention to amend. Repentance, guilt, by itself is not enough. I've known many people whom I've felt were truly remorseful for their actions, but repeated them again at the next temptation. It takes a determination to do better next time to allow us to put guilt away. Next time we may fail again, but if we truly wish to change our behavior, eventually we will succeed.

Guilt is Good (from Beliefnet)

It is a striking fact about our basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than that in any law book--the "law written on our hearts" that St. Paul refers to (Rom 2:15). It isn't simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don't want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to going to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.


"Guilt," comments my Romanian friend Ioana Novac, "is a sense of fearful responsibility after realizing we have taken the wrong step and behold its painful consequences. In my experience, unfortunately not many people can tolerate this insight. My hunch is that many people these days experience less and less love, less and less strengthening support from their families and communities. As life gets more harried and we become more afflicted, the burden of guilt increases while our courage to embrace repentance--to look ourselves straight in the mirror and face the destructive consequences of our blindness and wrong choices--decreases."

It's a common delusion that one's sins are private or affect only a few other people. To think our sins, however hidden, don't affect others is like imagining that a stone thrown into the water won't generate ripples…

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks like this. ;)

I'm sure some areligious folks (and definitely the anti-religious folks) would make something out of the fact that most of the quotes come from columns that quote the Bible or Jewish faith and tradition. Hopefully, they can at least see the basic truth about guilt.

(As a Catholic, I'm very greatful for the idea that guilt is a component of repentance and that without guilt we cannot gain repentance.)