Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Gift of Guilt

I used to think guilt was a bad thing. In my (Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical) Protestant upbringing, guilt was unacceptable. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! He came to wash all my guilt away! Abiding such a thing was unthinkable... it was a flagrant slap in the face of God. Entertaining guilt was akin to entertaining the devil himself. Best not give him a foothold...

But as a Catholic, I'm actually starting to feel thankful for my guilt... Without guilt, there's no true contrition (*sincere repentance or remorse) & no true change occurs. If I sin & am instantly forgiven with no fear of consequences, what's to stop me from doing it again? Love for Jesus? Hah. “I don't know the man.”

Guilt seems like a kind of temporal punishment that interrupts relationship with God (& others) & sends me to the corner till I'm ready to 'fess up. Since one typically doesn't have instant access to the sacrament of reconciliation, the process usually involves waiting days between the offense & confession. In the meantime, I confess my sins to God & receive His forgiveness by faith, but that's not enough. It never seemed enough, even when I was a Protestant. Sometimes my relationship with Him seems imaginary- much like my sin. Its my perception of reality & morality or the sacred & profane that validates what “is” & disregards what “is not”. If it isn't accessible to the senses or subject to 2nd hand scrutiny, there's no consequence because there's no evidence. No one will ever know... its just between me & God... and doesn't He cast my offenses as far as the East is from the West? Doesn't He sink my sins in the deepest ocean & post a no fishing sign? These are the kinds of things I was told about sin & forgiveness.Confessing & resolving to change was supposed to be "enough", but its not. Resolve isn't the same as action. Why does a parent still discipline a repentant child? To make them suffer? Or to teach them the difference between right & wrong to to help the child learn to respect parental authority?

Outing myself & speaking my offenses to a priest makes my sin "real". My guilt becomes real. My weakness & the true state of my heart come to light. Consequently, my God, the Eternal Father & my identity as His child becomes real as the priest listens & gives counsel, as he extends forgiveness & absolution, along with "discipline" (penance). As an adult, penance is no burden, but a joy done with a thankful, hopeful heart because I understand its meant to teach me the way in which I should go. The gift of guilt moves me out from the shadows, into “His marvelous light...”

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