Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If You Don't Want To Hear About Guilt, Move On

This part time thing is fun. I'm home on the floor with the dog, and soon, I'll return to writing my article, drinking tea, and packing. So it's fun, except when it isn't, which is most of the time. Huh? Okay. I never thought I was social person, but I don't. do. well. when left alone all day. The dog is only good for so much company, you know? I like work. There's people. Anyways.

There's a related subject here, one my friend Vintage and I were talking about. Catholic guilt, something that she and I look at each other and smile knowingly about (though really, her dad is a deacon, and was in training to be a priest, and her mom was in a convent, so I think she has me topped). I'm pretty sure it's something we as cradle Catholics drink in our mother's breastmilk, because I've had several convert friends look quizzically at me when I mention guilt. In fact, it happened at work last week; my co-worker just shrugged and said, "Convert, not cradle."

What is this thing, that leaves me feeling guilty, whether or not I should be? Where does it come from?

Well, there's the dark side of it all, a side I can only mention in a vague way. Let's just say that sometimes, after a very damaging and horrifying event, the worst damage is not done by the event itself, but by the cruel words and treatment afterwards from someone you think you can trust, and someone whose duty to you fails. Telling a victim she is at fault, by a priest, by a nun, when she is very young leaves a lasting impression. Understanding later that it was a human failing stitches up the wound instead of healing it, leaving a scar called guilt.

On the light side, there's the sometimes amusing Catholic culture. I mean, dragging in a first grader who is about six? seven? and making them confess their sins? I made stuff up. I couldn't remember what I'd done yesterday, let alone all my sins to confess. Praying every morning and afternoon in school to have our sins forgiven, even as preschoolers? As you grow older, and you can remember the sins to confess, and you like saying the prayers, then there are the constant lectures, about what is bad, very wrong, sinful, evil, and very little about what you did that was good, right, and kind.

I make this sound awful, and for the most part, it wasn't. It just lends itself to a constant sense of guilt.

Maybe mine is more finely tuned because I am the oddball of my family, a family where the women always stay home with the kids and the men have careers. If you are walking the path laid out for you by everyone else, do you feel the guilt as much?

So that's Catholic guilt. Over time, it becomes a part of Catholic culture, that you can accept and smile at. Most don't remember what guilt was like when they were young. I do.


That Married Couple said...

Thanks for taking the time to explain that for us converts! :) You're right, that sense of guilt is a foreign concept to me. It's more of a relief to actually admit your sins and know you're forgiven right on the spot, as opposed to just saying "sorry" into the sky and hoping that's enough (and worrying over and over that it's not).

So I guess my question after this is, do you have any suggestions on how to make that better? When we have children, how do I teach them the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation, but not have them only focused on their sins to the point where their guilt is unhealthy?

And also, might I suggest that a little guilt is a good thing? That is what motivates us to go to confession, after all. And in our society of moral relativism, isn't it good to know that there are things that are right and wrong - to have people actually feel bad when they do something wrong?

Not trying to argue in the least - just trying to tease it all out in my mind!

Graced said...

I'm no moral relativist, for sure. Guilt is surely how we train children when they're younger; otherwise, I don't see how they would develop any capacity for empathy or sympathy. But when guilt invades parts of your life where it shouldn't be, then I think it's gone too far.

The rest, I would have to think about for a bit. What a horribly hard question to answer though--what would I do differently if I were my mother raising me?!? :)