Handling Guilt — February 28, 2016

  • Homily Details
  • Pastor Name: Fr. Steven Hoffman
  • Date & Time: February 28, 2016  |  11:00 am
  • Location: Main Church
  • Gospel Reading: Luke 13: 1-9

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3rd Sunday of Lent – Guilt

To help us understand the importance and challenges of guilt in our human experience, I want to read to you a short reflection by a Jesuit priest, George Aschenbrenner, who speaks of guilt in relation to the traditional practice of examination of conscience: “Examination has sometimes deteriorated into an overly negative, moralistic approach that highlights the bad actions of the day, and which, all too often, produces the unhealthy guilt of self-hatred.  The approach to examination I propose (consciousness Examine), gives primary concern to what should always be the main focus: God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, always quietly and gently present in all the ordinary details of life–the question then becomes: how have we respond or have not responded to His love.  This approach awakens a healthy sense of guilt, sorrow, and repentance.  A healthy, liberating guilt can only come from a genuine experience of the wonder and gift of God’s love. As we are drawn and attracted to the beauty of this love, it reveals the inadequacy and sinfulness of our condition, while at the same time giving us the desire to be so much more than what we are at present.  Seen in this light, sin is a choice against love.”

“Because of the neurotic experience of unhealthy guilt, there has been a tendency to label all guilt as bad and unhealthy.  But there is a true guilt that springs from a genuine relationship with God–and which does sting–but in the right way.  This kind of guilt is born of love, manifesting the presence of a real and deep relationship with God that takes serious anything that weakens or wounds the love that has become the life and joy of the soul.  The focus is not so much on self, but on the beloved, the one we love, and what has wounded the love we share.” 

“Unhealthy guilt is always anxious, worried about self, excessively fearful of punishment, preoccupied with failure, at times verging on despair in the face of some unrealistic perfectionism.  Healthy guilt does not despair, it does not disrupt the peace of the soul, for it is more conscious of the mercy and forgiveness of God, which is always immediately available in the Crucified, Risen Lord.”

So, when my conscience convicts me that I have failed to respond to love, failed to give love, either to God, or to my neighbor, I feel guilty because I am guilty–and it’s that simple.  And the purpose of my guilt, together with my conscience, is to urge me back to God, back to the path of love, to move me to repent and run back into the arms of God’s mercy. When we do this, the guilt quickly dissipates–it has served it’s purpose.  Problems arise when we delay the homecoming, then guilt begins to harm us and wear us down, dampening our joy, sapping our mental and emotional energy, making us restless and more preoccupied with ourselves.

We were never meant to wallow in guilt or shame–it never does us any good.  So why do we delay?  A major part of the struggle is the difficulty in admitting our faults and failures.  There are primarily two causes: The first is fear. Sometimes we don’t want to admit our guilt because we fear the consequences, we fear punishment, we fear that we will not be received with mercy and love. But another cause is Pride.  Pride often underlies the mental gymnastics of denial, like: self-justification; the attempt to rationalize sin and make excuses; some try to down-play their sins, thinking they’re no big deal; many today try to blame others for their actions; and sometimes we waist a lot of time beating ourselves up and condemning ourselves.

The sad thing is that denying guilt does not make it go away–it doesn’t leave–it just moves to a different place within us, to the subconscious part of our mind–and when it embeds itself in our subconscious, it can fester into various diseases of the soul: various forms of neurotic behavior, irritability, moodiness, super-sensitivity, certain forms of depression, apathy, a spirit of criticism of everything and everyone.

One of the works of grace in us is to shorten the time lapse between the failure to love and the homecoming–we want this time lapse to be zero, no delay.  And this is why Jesus spends so much time preaching about the goodness of the Father and His mercy, hoping to heal and purify our image of God and his love, so that we would grow in confidence and trust to run immediately back to God after we fall.  This is also why Jesus speaks so much about humility, about humbly admitting our sins, so that pride does not keep us stuck in denial of sin, delaying our return to God.

When Jesus comes to us now in the Eucharist, let us allow him to heal our  broken images of God and his mercy, and give us humility to admit our failures so we can now the joy of God’s faithful, untiring forgiveness.