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From Father Charles -
A Lenten Reflection on Shame and Guilt
These two words are often used in conjunction with one another, and most of us think they are synonymous. The truth is that they are not synonymous. In fact, these terms are different and often affect our spiritual journeys. It is well for us to determine the difference between them so that we can minimize how they impact our lives.
Guilt is a positive human emotion, while shame can be a debilitating one. If we are honest with ourselves, we will discover that most of us have experienced these emotions in our lives. I certainly have.
In the bible, both Peter and Judas experienced the emotion of guilt. The difference is the effect of shame. Judas felt guilt and shame over his betrayal of Jesus which led him to take his own life. Peter only experienced guilt over denying Jesus three times.
So what is the difference?
How do these two emotions impact us?
According to the dictionary guilt is "an awareness of having done wrong." Shame is "a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment."
Psychologists tell us that the experience of shame is directly about the self. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative emotion, rather the thing done is the focus. So, guilt is a painful feeling of regret and an assumption of responsibility for one's actions, while shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a defective person.
A person who feels guilt is thinking, "I did something bad," while a person who feels shame is saying, "I am bad." Guilt drives us toward repentance while shame drives us to despair. Therefore, guilt can, under the right circumstances, drive us to God, while shame tends to drive us away from God and other people.
I think of guilt as a catalyst that might lead us into a conversion with our priest or valued spiritual friend, while our shame might lead us to mistakenly believe that God's mercy and forgiveness are not possible for us. Shame often causes us to see ourselves as the sum total of our worst habits. Our belief in God does not lead us to that conclusion.
After seeing how Judas reacted to his shame we do well to be on guard against the destructive forces of our own shame. Our shame can divide or separate us from others, plunging us into a dark place, a place so dark that we cannot see the light of Christ. The Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus came for the benefit of the lost. We only need to turn back to Jesus, who longs to forgive us, restore us and call us back in relationship with our heavenly Father.
No matter what you have done in the past, I urge you to look forward. I invite you to find comfort and reprieve from your shame in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist and the Reconciliation of the Penitent. Our Holy Bible also offers the following verses for our consideration:
What the Bible Says:
Romans 8:1: "Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Psalm 103:12 "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our sins from us."
John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."
John 1:12 tells us: "But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God."
I hope this reflection is helpful, please let me know if you have questions or comments.
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