This last week, I had a chat with my lapsed Catholic friend. I must say I have never encountered a worse case of “the guilt” in all my life. The forgiving nature of Catholicism, the fact that the gospel is called the good news for a reason, the place of sinners called to repentance at mass, all this had been forgotten.
The “guilt” was so bad that my friend was even in a state of self hatred over whether they were sorry for their sin or not, the fact that they were in tears frequently during the course of conversation showed that they were totally wrong even about their own feelings about their own desire for forgiveness.
I have in the past been nervous of calling this Catholic guilt, and now I know why, its not Catholic at all, I know exactly where the guilt comes from, as Screwtape called him, our father below. This is the voice that entices people to sin with weasel words and then the very moment of the act damns the sinner and curses them with all the hatred of hell, he is known as the father of lies for a reason. Both lies are deadly, the lie that the sin isn’t serious so go ahead, and the lie that the sin is so serious so enjoy damnation.
The Church takes a third way, sin is bad, but nothing is ever beyond the forgiveness of God and actually a lot of sins aren’t as bad as the sinner has convinced himself. Especially the sins that people think are so bad that they don’t believe their priest when they are told in confession that they are forgiven, or the sins that people lapse as Catholics over.
People really do need to believe their priests in confession when they are sacramentally absolved. If the priest is wrong to forgive then that is their problem, but we must believe in the power of the absolution. My friend worried they weren’t forgiven because of a light penance, but from my conversation with them I’d have come to the exact same conclusion as the priest, they had been punishing themselves more than enough.
Leave the judging the seriousness of a sin, absolution and the formulation of a penance to the priest, they have spent 6 years or so in a seminary and hear hundreds of confessions a year, they know what they are doing. They also often have a better conception of the forgiveness of God.
Sin crucifies Jesus, so all sin is serious and bad. On the other hand God is lord of the universe and our sins are often laughably small minded, petty and insignificant. There can sometimes be a strange sense of pride in how big a sinner we are, even in the holy, the false humility that says “I am a big sinner” well no not really, often we are just the same as everyone else, it is called the fallen nature of humanity.
Talking of the fallen nature of humanity, I swore I wouldn’t talk about “that issue”, but the Telegraph website is driving me mad at the moment, even Damien Thompson is shifting the goalposts, and the latest attack on what the Pope actually said in comments on condoms comes in a not so cunning disguise of a compliment
I would like to take the opportunity to award Tom Chivers, a Catholic Shinobi atheist smug ignoramus award of 2010, sadly there are currently too many winners to name but at the moment he is at the top of my list. What a fantastic contributor to the cause of atheistic smug ignorance he has been, Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell, Phillip Pullman, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens have another to add to their number.
Anyway back to more pressing matters, it looks like my friend is seriously contemplating getting back to the sacraments, to which I would love any readers to add their prayers to mine towards that effect.