Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why are Catholics so guilty?

Not too long ago, I was chatting on the phone with a friend. We were talking about faith and our relationship with Christ. She's a non-denominational Christian so it's easy to talk about faith without fear of sounding like a "Jesus freak."  I was lamenting about how I keep failing God and I keep screwing up. She interrupted me and asked "Why are Catholics so guilty? I have other Catholic friends and they're always so guilty."
I was a little caught off guard. I thought for a moment trying to figure how to respond but then as we both have kids we were interrupted and the subject changed. I didn't really have an answer at the time. I remember my pastor would joke about how the Jews invented guilt and Catholics perfected it. You hear about Catholic guilt a lot. But is it really Catholic guilt? Or is it just plain ol' guilt and why do Catholics tend have a lot of it?

Here is a list of reasons why I think Catholics are so guilty. 

1. The Crucifix

The Crucifix is definitely a reminder of our sins. Protestants have removed the corpus from their crosses so they don't really have that continuous reminder. Catholics have the Crucifix and they are everywhere. Many have one next to the front door. Some have them in their bedrooms. Some have them in every room and even in their cars, (my husband,) and many wear them around their necks. Even the Rosary has a Crucifix at the end of it. When we go to Mass, there it is, the Crucifix.
Catholics are continually facing the Crucifix and each time they look at that Crucifix, they come face to face with their sins right up there on that cross. We are reminded subliminally and consciously that because of our sins, Jesus, out of His love for us, was willing to suffer and die on that cross. When I'm frustrated and yelling at my kids to hurry out the door for school, there is the Crucifix staring right at me. When I'm driving in my car and someone cuts me off, there hanging on the rear view mirror is a Rosary with a Crucifix on the end of it as I almost blurt out an expletive. If there was just a plain cross with no Corpus then I'm not sure I'd be struck with that pervasive guilt as I am when being confronted with a Crucifix.

2. The Rosary

Anyone that prays the Rosary regularly will probably feel a little more guilty than those who don't. Saying the Hail Mary for starters reminds us that we are sinners in need of prayer. For those who have never heard the Hail Mary,it goes like this;

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy Womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. ..

This gets said 53 times by the time we're finished praying the Rosary.  But there is more to the Rosary than reciting rote prayers. As we recite these prayers, we meditate on the life of Jesus. Tuesdays and Fridays are when the Sorrowful Mysteries are done. This is the meditation on Jesus' Passion. First, there's the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then there's the the Scourging, Then the Crowning of Thorns. Then we walk with Jesus as He carries his Cross and finally the Crucifixion. Again, we're reminded of what Jesus went through for us "poor banished children of Eve." If that doesn't make a person feel guilty, I don't know what will.

3. The Mass

Hopefully, if you're Catholic, you're attending Mass at least once a week. Some go every day. I already mentioned how the Crucifix is on display in any Catholic Church. But as Mass is said, we start with the Penitential rite. There's different variations of it but basically, it's about admitting that we have sinned and we ask for Christ's mercy. Then when the Eucharist prayer is said we are reminded that before He was put to death, a death He freely accepted, He broke bread...
So that's just another quick reminder that we have lots to feel guilty about.

4. Lent

If you've learned to ignore the Crucifix, (or you don't have any,) you avoid praying the Rosary and fall a sleep at Mass then there's always Lent to kick up the guilt meter. All kinds of things going on to remind us of Jesus' sacrifice for us wretched souls. Lots of penance, lots of giving up stuff for penance and then there's more penance. And then finally there's Palm Sunday where we listen to the Passion from either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, (depending which cycle we're in for the Bible readings,)
Sometimes we even pretend to be the angry crowd that wants to crucify Jesus and get to yell out, 

"Crucify Him!"

Right there we implicate ourselves in the crucifixion of our Lord. We may imagine ourselves back in that crowd and wonder if we really would have been calling for His death. We'd like to think that we would have been the ones weeping and sobbing while Jesus carried His cross and hung on His cross. But it's an unsettling feeling that most likely, many of us would have gone along with the crowd and gotten carried away with the raucous scene. There's that guilt again. You can't escape it. Just try. Lets not forget the Stations of the Cross which is basically what Mel Gibson put into movie form with The Passion. This is done on good Friday which is a day of fasting. Good Friday is a very solemn time. The hosts are removed from the tabernacles because we remember Jesus' death on the Cross. At 3:00 we pause to remember the moment Jesus died. It's hard to come away from Good Friday unmoved. Guilt reigns again.

5. Sacrament of Reconciliation, (aka Confession.)

There's an app for that, err I mean examination of conscience. Examination of conscience is what we Catholics are supposed to do while waiting for the sacrament of reconciliation. This is where we basically go through the Ten Commandments and see if we've broken any of them. Simple enough.  But when you go through say, the IPhone app, you find there's a Pandora's box of sins entangled in breaking any of the Ten Commandments. Under number 5, Thou Shall not Kill, there's subcategories that fit into breaking that commandment. For example, it asks the Penitent if they've quarreled with anyone. Well guess what? If they have, they just broke the 5th commandment. It's a given that most of us break the 1st commandment quite regularly. Whenever we put God on the back burner we are putting other false gods before us. If someone suffers from scrupulosity, they are usually advised to skip the official examination of conscience because it will really mess with them. So another opportunity for the guilt to pile on.

6. The Eucharist

I don't mean this out of arrogance but any practicing Catholic is closer to the light because of the Eucharist. In every Catholic parish, all over the world, Jesus is physically and substantially present in the Eucharist. Any practicing Catholic who regularly attends Mass is receiving Jesus physically and substantially, body, blood, soul and divinity. It doesn't matter if lukewarm Catholics don't realize what they're receiving when they go to receive communion. It's still Jesus. So yes, Catholics are closer to the light even when they don't realize it. Our sins become more noticeable under that light. St. John of the Cross said something about how when the light hits a window pane, we notice all the scratches, dirt and imperfections. St. Peter after miraculously catching all those fish, instinctively dropped to his knees realizing he was in the presence of Christ and said, 

"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Lk 5:8

Right there, Catholic guilt.

So there you have it. I'm not saying that only Catholics feel guilty. But since my friend asked why Catholics are so guilty, these are some of the reasons I can think of. It's not because the Church preaches hell fire and brimstone. We're not being manipulated by the priests or any other human influence. We are fully aware of Christ's mercy. We are reminded again and again of His mercy. We need to be reminded again of His mercy because we are in His presence close to the light with all our imperfection on display. It is just one of the many blessings of being Catholic. Yes, there is guilt.  But I see it as a grace.  Every time we receive the sacrament of Reconciliation we are washed of our sins and the peace many of us feel afterward is indescribable. So, I'll take that Catholic guilt. I'm fine with having to face my wretched pettiness and I know just the Physician who will fix me and change me. Only one Physician who has the infinite patience and mercy. As long as I'm aware of my fallen nature I can turn it over to Jesus. Yes, I'm guilty. I'm so so guilty. Christ have mercy on me. I come to fall in love with Him more and more everyday because He keeps loving me unconditionally, healing me and forgiving my debts. Like any addiction, it's difficult to have that happen if you don't realize you have a problem. Guilt is good. 


gutenberg'sbible said...

There is a well known evangelical pastor who goes on record saying that Catholicism leads to guilt. I have blogged about this issue several times. Here's my most recent thoughts:

If guilt leads me to holiness, bring it on. As an evangelical bible thumper, I could get away with all kinds of sin, saying ok God I'm sorry but going down the same road over and over again. being Catholic has made me realize that there is definitely sin that leads to death, and that it's not as easy as just saying "I'm sorry" and continuing that sin.

russ rentler said...

another post on guilt and Catholics

Just another suburban mom. said...

Amen to that! I think whether we're protestant or catholic we all have guilt on our conscience when we sin whether we acknowledge it or not. But Catholics have a way to confront it and be healed through confession. I'm working on a post called "Post reconciliation buzz" which is that awesome peace and joy we receive after going to confession.

Colleen said...

There is "good" guilt (meaning healthy) and there is "bad" guilt (when we cut ourselves down all the time.) I think the key is - do we have confidence in God's loving mercy and compassion?
Great post. God bless!

Anonymous said...

Colleen makes a good point. For myself, I think guilt gets a bad rap. My thoughts on the matter:

Funny how so many of us have talked about this! :)

kkollwitz said...

Everyone should feel guilty because everyone is guilty. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross does not make guilty people innocent; it makes guilty people forgiven and redeemed.

Just another suburban mom. said...

Hi Colleen, yes there is unhealthy guilt and I've suffered from it. I think I'll do a post on my very small bout of scrupulosity to address that. Thankfully, the Church in her wisdom recognizes the difference between healthy and unhealthy guilt.

Hi Kathleen, I read your post and you hit it exactly!

kkwollwitz, yep! Amen to that!

Barb Schoeneberger said...

I second all the commenters and especially kkollwitz. My answer to that question is, "Why not feel guilt?" We are guilty. No ifs ands or buts about it. If we didn't feel guilty what incentive would we have to make firm resolutions to be more responsive to God's grace?

Colleen is right to distinguish between good and bad guilt. Bad guilt makes everything about us. Good guilt is honestly admitting before God that we have messed up and really need Him.

Bring on the Catholic guilt. I don't feel guilty about accusing myself of being guilty. Thank God for it because it means we are aware of the pervasiveness of sin in our lives. Without that sense of guilt we will never reach the degree of holiness God wants for us. If it moves us toward Him more intensely, it has served its purpose. To desire not to experience it is to desire a dead conscience.

rosa flores said...

Guilt is a very complicated subject and most definitely can be bad for the soul and mind. I love being Catholic and would never be anything else, however think the way parents raise their children in the catholic faith makes a huge difference as to how guilt is approached, faced. I for example, think my parents, my mother more so, used guilt in general to control situations and our family, and unfortunately was and is built on catholic faith. In other words if I failed or fail at following Catholic expectations, then I'm a failure. That approach discounts the fact that God would not reject a child. Now, this doesn't mean that we can seat comfortably and rely on God's mercy to keep living life the way we want it, not the way He teaches us to live it. For that, awareness/"good" guilt is great, however there's no good that comes from making a human being feel like a failure, I personally don't think God would want that, so the way we teach and handle guilt makes the difference between a healthy Catholic, emotionally and spiritually, and a non healthy one. The way we approach our catholic beliefs and their related dosage of guilt is key in sending the right message to society, as Catholics are not walking failures, we are constant work in progress, which in essence defines success, not failure! Work in PROGRESS, like ductil material in the hands of The One that loves us unconditionally!

Whitney Overstreet said...

It's Psalm Sunday. Not Palm.