Catholic Guilt! What is it, and how do we rid ourselves of it?

We’ve all heard the expression “Catholic Guilt,” usually in a derogatory manner. I’ve been accused of having it many times, and I must admit I do carry guilt, but why?

Is it because, unlike our culture, I believe there is such a thing as sin, and I have committed it? In this case,  “Catholic Guilt” is healthy, for it leads me to repentance.

Is it because, although I believe God forgives me when I repent, I have trouble forgiving myself? Nowhere does the Church support this kind of guilt. This is unhealthy guilt for which many need healing.

Could it be that I often feel guilty for sins of which I’m not even aware? Does this even make sense?

For now, I want to focus on the last one – sins I don’t even realize I commit. If I can rid myself of this guilt, I believe it will free my heart and mind so that I can be free even to forgive myself.

Thanks to The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, a CD titled “Healing and Holiness” by Vinny Flynn from the MaryFoundation, and a good confession, I have found that healing.

The first thing I needed to do is to admit that I am a sinner. St. Paul wrote, “… all have sinned and are deprived (fallen short) of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NAB). This should sting our consciences!

Sometimes I can’t pinpoint my sins, but I know I am guilty of them. The reason it’s hard for me to detect my sin is that I’ve been deceived by our culture, which has minimalized the seriousness of sin. Our culture has fallen under the deception that as long as people are basically good, they’re OK.

Vinny Flynn says God doesn’t want us to become only good persons; he wants us to be holy, to become saints! We must develop a longing for personal holiness!

Remember, one must become a saint (be holy) to enter into the presence of God (Rev. 21:27). Thankfully, God provides Purgatory for any of us who have confessed our sins but aren’t yet purified enough to face God.

Flynn continues to say that going to Mass once a week and occasionally receiving the sacrament of reconciliation is not enough to counteract all the evil and unholiness we face in our culture.

He is not even sure if going to daily Mass and monthly confession is enough to help us become saints. Flynn believes we need weekly confession or at least receive it on a regular basis.

But how can we go to weekly confession if we’re not even conscious of sins? In Book 4, Chapter 7 – The Examination of Our Conscience of The Imitation of Christ, I found the answer. It’s called learning what sin is. Sin is whatever weakens my relationship with God!

Kempis writes as if his words are Christ’s and he asks us to bewail the times we sought only happiness, relaxation, and bodily comforts, and were slow in offering up discomfort; for wasting time on frivolity rather than building our relationship with Him; and for craving possessions and being stingy with giving.

He asks us to grieve when we’re so thoughtless in speech, and so undisciplined in silence; when our habits are so unmannerly and our actions so inconsiderate; when we are greedy for food – and I would include drink, and so deaf to the word of God; when we’re quick to rest, yet slow to work; so excited to gossip, but weary at prayer time; and when we’re so attentive to hear the latest news, yet our minds wander during the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

We should deplore that we are so moved to anger and ready to take offense at others; so quick to judge and ruthless when we rebuke; so happy when all goes well, yet so cranky in adversity; and so quick to propose good resolutions, yet break them so easily.

I’m guilty of all of these, so I took Kempis’ book to my next confession. After mentioning specific sins to the priest, I just opened the book and read the rest of my confession. It was refreshing, for I finally removed the guilt – the guilt caused by those sins of which I wasn’t even aware.

The world would tell us these aren’t even sins, but sins are thoughts or actions that weaken our love of God and neighbor. A frequent examination of conscience and regular confession will help us discover those sneaky sins. Developing a longing for personal holiness will strengthen us against such sin.

Flynn says we shouldn’t avoid or be afraid of going to confession. Instead, we should view it as a means to improve our friendship with God – to lead us to a profound encounter with Christ! If we look at it like this, we would be knocking down the doors of the church to get to confession.

In this season of Easter, Jesus has given the Church his greatest grace since the sending of the Holy Spirit – Divine Mercy Sunday!

In an apparition to St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who died in 1938, Jesus requested that his Divine Mercy be celebrated the Sunday after Easter. On this day, when we do the things requested of us by Jesus, we have the opportunity of becoming a new creation.

His requests include the reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist and praying the Our Father and the Creed for the pope’s intentions. He also asks that we reflect on his Divine Mercy image,  pray a prayer of mercy like the chaplet, and be merciful to others.

When we fulfill these simple requests, he promises to wipe away our sins completely, just as at baptism.

This is the surest way to remove any Catholic guilt – healthy or unhealthy!