Good Guilt, Bad Guilt

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Saint Peter Damian, Bishop and Doctor of the Church – Optional Memorial

Readings for Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

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They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  But they remained silent.  For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.  Mark 9:33-34

The Apostles “remained silent” because they were immediately filled with feelings of guilt.  They were having a foolish argument about who was the greatest among them and when Jesus asked them what they were discussing, they were ashamed to admit it.  They knew their conversation was foolishness.  Jesus goes on to offer the beautiful teaching on true humility.  But let’s take a look at the lesson we learn from the Apostles’ experience of guilt.

Is guilt a bad thing?  Is it undesirable to feel guilt?  Is “Catholic guilt” the result of overly oppressive moral teachings?  Sadly, in our world today it seems that most forms of guilt are slowly dissipating and many people are becoming more obstinate in their violations of God’s law with a “guilt free” conscience.  But the truth is that guilt is often a good thing!  It’s good when the guilt you feel is a result of a clear understanding of your moral failure.  Guilt, in this case, is a sign that your conscience is working.

Of course there are those who are scrupulous and feel excessive guilt when they should feel only a little.  Or they feel guilt as a result of a confused conscience rather than as the result of a sin they have committed.  This is not healthy and must be remedied.  However, in our day and age, a lack of healthy guilt is often the more common problem.

Perhaps the lesson we should take from this encounter Jesus had with His Apostles is that it is good and healthy to experience guilt in our lives when it is clear that we have done something wrong.  And it is good and healthy to be attentive to this guilt as an invitation to change our ways.

After Jesus gently reproved the Apostles, He then gently taught them the meaning of true greatness.  This is also the approach He will take with us when we humbly experience guilt for our sins.

Reflect, today, upon how well your conscience works.  Is it, at times, overly scrupulous?  Is it unscrupulous, tending to the opposite extreme of failing to see sin for what it is.  Or are you blessed with a balanced, good and healthy conscience that does experience appropriate guilt as needed so as to guide you when you go astray?  Seek this middle way of a virtuous conscience and allow our Lord to be your daily guide.

Lord, I offer to You my conscience.  I know that my conscience is a sanctuary, a holy place, where I am called to meet You and hear Your voice.  May my conscience always be open to the full truth of Your Gospel so that I may be guided by You each and every day.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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