The statistics cannot be denied. My Blog traffic has QUADRUPLED since I revisited Catholic stuff. HMMMM Are Catholics searching? Hurting? Wondering? Longing? Maybe. So, today’s blog addresses the topic of Catholic Guilt – or any other guilt for that matter that is imposed upon us from outside perceived authorities (ie: religious institutions).
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Don’t Get Me Wrong
I have said it before, and I will say it again. I LOVE my Catholic faith. I love the spiritual traditions, the rituals, the sacraments, the art and architecture, the lives of the saints, Catholic devotionals, the rosary, Mary, I can even throw a novena or two into the pot of things that I love about my Catholic upbringing….oh yea….and the Catholic school uniforms. LOVED my uniform! I love the amazing nuns and religious brothers that taught us (ok, with the exception of a few), and I have great respect for many of the priests who have led the various Catholic parishes in which I claimed membership. These are the things that allow me to continue to claim my Catholic heritage and to even admit that as a grown up, I still consider myself to be Catholic even though there are certain teachings, rules, etc. that I no longer choose to observe. If that makes me a “Cafeteria Catholic,” then so be it.
What the Institution Got Wrong (in my maybe not so humble opinion)
But here’s the problem. Somewhere along the way, the Institution of the Catholic Church missed the WHOLE point of Jesus’ message – GOD IS LOVE. Instead, here is the image of God that Catholics are taught (and other religions with them) and here is the image that keeps us chained in the cycle of guilt imposed upon us by the Institution:
God is a judging, condemning God whose approval we have to earn and who will deny us HIS love if we do not toe the line.
Yes, we have all heard the moral platitudes: God is loving and forgiving. If you seek God’s forgiveness, you will be forgiven. If you confess your sins to the priest and receive absolution, you will be freed of your sins and made ready to join God in HIS glory.
But here’s the problem….no one really believes this, and I’m not sure the Institution wants us to. Instead, what is presented to us is a system of rules and regulations that we are supposed to follow and only if we follow these rules (as set forth by the Institution), AND confess our sins, AND receive the sacraments, AND perform certain acts of prayer and service in order to receive indulgences (YES….indulgences are still in full force…even today), AND NEVER miss Sunday mass, AND refrain from using birth control, AND vote pro-life, AND give 10% to the Church, AND never get divorced, etc. etc. etc. only then can we have any hope of going to heaven after we die. But even all of this might not be enough as the threat of purgatory is forever waved in our face. No wonder Catholics feel guilty all the time. Once you start to seek, ask the questions, explore, make other choices, there is someone waving the flag of “hell and damnation” in your face. “Don’t question the Church…or you will go to hell. Father knows best. The ONLY truth is in the Catholic Church. You’re not welcome here if you can’t obey our rules.”
Guilt is the Devil
So, what does this cycle of fear and guilt do to us? It keeps us quiet, small, blindly obedient, afraid. It keeps us firmly locked in the beginning stages of spiritual development where we do what we are told and believe it because it is what we were told to believe. It keeps us from using the mind that God gave us to reason, discern and exercise truth. It keeps us from ever becoming spiritually mature adults and from becoming the empowered, self-motivated apostles that the Institution claims they want us to be. (For more on the stages of spiritual development, see the work of James Fowler: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fowler’s_stages_of_faith_development) Fear, intimidation and guilt are the tools used by an Institution that does not want us to seek, to ask the tough questions, to challenge, to balance theology with reason, to hold the Institution accountable. It is for this reason (among others) that I say GUILT IS THE DEVIL. Used in this way, guilt does nothing but keep us from the truth that God would reveal to us on a deeply intimate and personal level. So, my answer to Catholic guilt when it shows up, trying to keep me from asking the questions, challenging perceived and assumed authority, “GET BEHIND ME SATAN,” because I know that God is love…..we are loved without condition…..abundantly, freely, generously, and that there is nothing we could ever do that could separate us from the love of God….regardless of what the Institution might want us to believe.
Where do you struggle with Catholic (or other) guilt?
Where do you feel called to question, search, challenge the beliefs you were brought up with?
How might God be calling you to explore the truth within your own heart?
Authentic Freedom Ministries