Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Catholic Guilt

As part of the Lenten observance, our parish held a Wednesday evening discussion on forgiveness and mercy. A member of our parish council conducted the session which consisted of reading a sermon originally written for an audience of monks. During the discussion which followed, the moderator told how she was riddled with guilt as a youngster and felt obligated to go to confession every two weeks. She blamed her strict Catholic upgrading as the cause of this "problem" and described her relief when she realized that God is merciful and forgiving. Another prominent parishioner replied that the reason for her guilt stemmed from the pre-Vatican II Church of "Thou shalt nots" as compared to the current positive view emphasizing God's love for us. The underlying message was a sense of victory over the necessity for frequent confession.

Often we hear people refer to "Catholic Guilt" as though all Catholics are unfairly taught to bear responsibility for all wrongdoing in the world. We blame this stigma on those evil nuns in Catholic school who poisoned our minds with such nonsense - those same nuns who struck us when we misbehaved, made us memorize the Baltimore Catechism and conform to the Palmer method of penmanship. Thank God, we were able to escape their bondage and rid ourselves of this induced anguish. Now, we can do as we please while totally ignorant of what the Catechism may say, and penmanship is a long-lost art.

Remember when it was a Mortal Sin to miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation? By taking one Sunday off, we could not go to Holy Communion again without going to Confession. Well, this may come as a shock to some people, but none of this has changed. We are still obligated to participate in the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration under penalty of Mortal Sin and we may not receive the Eucharistic Christ until that Mortal Sin is absolved through Sacramental Confession to a priest. (CCC 2181, 1415)

Somewhere along the line, we lost our sense of sin. Unless I missed something, we are still required to obey all those "Thou shalt nots". The rules have not changed. Attitudes have changed, mostly due to priests and bishops shifting emphasis to God's merciful love at the expense of fearing His just punishment. While we certainly have a merciful loving God, we must also realize there are consequences to our behavior. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is going to heaven.

When Catholics hear nothing but the "God is Love" message in the Sunday homily, they acquire a false sense of eternal security. Perhaps priests are afraid they will drive people away if they preach about the evil of sin and the pains of hell. They do their parishioners an injustice when they complacently enable the frequent reception of Holy Communion by those not in a state of grace. (See 1 Cor 11:27)

There is nothing wrong with feeling some of that Catholic guilt. Knowing that our sins harm not only ourselves but the entire community should make us feel guilty. A few diseased branches are a detriment to health of others on the vine. Sinful behavior is contagious. The irony of all this is that frequent confession can take away the guilty feeling. Those oblivious to sin who feel they no longer need frequent confession are the ones who should be feeling guilty the most.