“Catholic guilt” is a term most of us are aware of. It has negative connotations which involve being made to feel bad for doing something we are not supposed to do. Our 21st century society frowns upon being made to feel bad (unless you are feeling bad about doing something our society frowns upon, but that’s a topic for another time).
When we take a moment to consider the fact, feeling bad about doing something wrong is normal. If someone never feels bad when they do something wrong we would consider that person a sociopath, void of conscience. However, there are two paths in which our bad feelings can take us. One is from God, the other has it’s origins in Satan.
The first, from God, is guilt. Guilt is a feeling that is not directed at ourselves, but at the immoral action we committed. Guilt is able to separate the act from ourselves, not because we have a lofty view of ourselves, but quite the opposite. We don’t feel like any less of a person for sinning, for we know that we are imperfect, that we are fallen, that we are weak and that we need to accept God’s grace to avoid sin. We feel guilt for the choice we made, we feel guilt for not relying on the God who loves us, and the guilt causes us to want to make amends. Guilt is what we feel when we regret the action and wish to apologize to anyone we may have wronged, make up for it in any way we can, as well as ask God for His mercy and forgiveness. Guilt leads to repentance and reconciliation.
The other common feeling, which is so often confused with guilt, is shame. Shame has it’s origins in Satan, for he was the one who tempted our first parents to sin and wants to shame us every time we sin. Shame is focused on the person. Shame is a liar. Shame comes from an exaggerated and distorted view of what we are supposed to be, and ignores who we are. Shame tells us we should never make mistakes and never make bad choices. Shame tells us we are worthless while everyone else is better than us. Shame tells us we are unforgivable and unlovable. Shame tells us we are supposed to be able to do anything on our own, without anyone’s help, not even God’s. Shame tells us to hide our faults and failings and not to seek help or forgiveness. Shame tells us that everyone else would be ashamed of us as well – if they only knew who we really are. Shame never leads us to repentance, reconciliation, love or God.
Now, we can, and I think we often do, feel guilt and shame at the same time. Now that you know the difference, weed out the shame and tell yourself the truth. This isn’t easy. Most of us have been shaming ourselves for a long time. But to begin, start telling yourself…
God is God and you are not God. God loves you and wants to help you. We all need His help. God knows we will sin, but He also knows we are one of a kind and priceless. God wants us to step into His loving light, to see ourselves for who we are, and allow Him to help us become who He made us to be. When we fall, and we will, guilt will help us repent. Shame never helps, it only hurts.
Jesus told us we must love one another as we love ourselves. This means we are to love and forgive others and love and forgive yourself. That’s what God does. So should you.