Accepting a healthy dose of shame

It’s a shame that feeling ashamed is going out of fashion. At least in some circles.

Watch the news. A lot of famous folks caught red-handed offer a sincere and heartfelt, “It’s not something I’m proud of.”

Uh huh And…?

“It’s my fault.” Nope. “What I did was wrong.” Nope. “I’m sorry.” Kind of, with: “I’m sorry some people found this offensive.” (We all know how some people are.)

Perhaps in this age of moral … filtered … enlightenment, humanity has a better understanding of culpability. You could find out. Next time you’re in the confessional begin with: “Bless me, Father, for I have done some things I’m not proud of.”

See if the one sitting there, in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), doesn’t gently straighten you out on that euphemism/load of malarkey.

But, of course, this is one reason some people demand to know why the Catholic Church remains so negative!

Exhibit 1: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Sheesh. I think. I get. The point.

Exhibit 2: “In what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” Talk about theological thumbscrews.

Back to the garden

The fact of the matter is little has changed since the beginning of all of us: Adam and Eve. Let’s retell that story in a loose way.

Our first parents do something they’re not proud of and God says, “Hey, where are you guys?” Hiding. From God. Unbelievable. So out they come, wearing “clothes.”

God wants to know what’s going on, or rather, he wants them to tell him what he already knows. The author of Genesis says that prior to this: “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25). That was because, Scripture scholars explain, they were like little kids: completely innocent. Until they did the one thing — the one thing — God told them not to do.

Then they’re ashamed. About how they look and, one would hope, about what they had done.

God gives them the big boot from Eden and the world is topsy-turvy until — the fact of the matter is one very important thing has changed — Jesus comes to preach, to teach and to heal. The Son of God is crucified, dies, is buried and rises from the dead. He redeems and saves all of us. He redeems you. Singular. Redeems us and saves us despite the things we do that “we’re not proud of.” Despite sin. Despite your sin.

In our own time, a big problem with hearing the non-apology apology and non-admitting admission of fault is that it’s easy to imitate those using them. Works for that politician, why not me? Works for that movie star, worth a shot here. We humans love to dampen if not completely deflect the blame. Our blame.

Eve: “It was the snake.” Adam: “It was her.” God: “You mean ‘it was she.’” Adam: “Exactly.” God: “I can see now you’re going to have to relearn how to speak properly, too.” Adam: “Huh?”

Bearing blame

But, it seems at times, our “enemy” isn’t some reptile. It’s our conscience. Uh oh.

In the words of the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Conscience is ‘the interior voice of a human being, within whose heart the inner law of God is inscribed.’ Moral conscience is a judgment of practical reason about the moral quality of human action. It’s moves a person at the appropriate moment to do good and avoid evil.”

And to, maturely, accept the blame, consequences and restitution needed because of that action.

Which is why, the Glossary adds, “an examination of conscience is recommended as a preparation for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance.”

This isn’t news. It’s been around for quite a while. “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The message? Here’s the Good News and here’s how you live out your belief in it because, quite often, that belief demands action. On a personal level. At a cost.

But why do that when the Not-Proud-Of Movement tells us it’s not just effective but wise to duck and cover? Not unlike a nuclear air-raid drill in a 1950s classroom. Yes, children, a missile is headed our way, but if you tuck in under your desk you’ll be just fine.

While comforting, in a way, that was rather useless overall.

Now imagine this: the politician, the entertainer or some other prominent figure steps up to the microphone and says, “This was my fault. What I did was wrong. I’m very sorry and deeply ashamed.” Imagine that exploding across the internet!

Asking for forgiveness

Yes, wouldn’t it be something if they…. “They”? Yes, “they.” How about: “What if I…?” What if I became better at accepting responsibility? Admitting a wrong-doing? Asking for forgiveness?

What a wonderful world it would be. Or at least a little bit better. We sin locally and can make amends locally. What a stark contrast that is to the famous people whose, to quote St. Paul, “glory is in their ‘shame’” (Phil 3:19).

And what an example we could set for those around us: family, friends, parishioners, coworkers, neighbors. Sometimes done privately, one-on-one; other times more publicly because, well, our misdeeds (sins) can have a wider effect.

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Yes, of course, the Sacrament of Confession. Avoided at times because we feel ashamed and know we should feel that way. Take heart: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17).

We can only hope that those to whom we apologize will follow the advice offered in the Old Testament book of Sirach: “Do not reproach one who turns away from sin; remember, we all are guilty” (Sir 8:5).

Needless to say but the same applies when others seek our forgiveness. Or in an updated adaptation of Jesus’ words to the crowd ready to stone the woman caught in adultery: “Let he who is without sin post the first snarky tweet.”

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

Shame and 'Little Catholic Girl Guilt'
Sad to say but in some Catholic circles the relationship between guilt and shame isn’t “I did something wrong and I’m ashamed.” It’s “I want you to do something for me and shame on you if you don’t.”