Good guilt vs. bad guilt

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Fear is useless: "Do not be afraid; just have faith" (Mk 5:36).

"Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more" (Rom 5:20).

Good guilt Bad guilt
Objective Subjective
Cleanses Shames
Sets us free Motivates bad behavior
Intensifies gratitude Obscures God's goodness
Motivates change Paralyzes
Centered on God and neighbor Self-centered
Sees through the eyes of the other Sees only what hurts the self
Optimistic: diagnosis and prescription Despairing: no way out
Clarifies what is wrong with us Condemns us
Proportionate to wrongdoing (rational) Disproportionate--"scruples" (irrational)
A gift of the Holy Spirit A work of the "angel of light"
Passes away Will not depart
Accepts consequences Fears punishment

The enemy "masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). The "angel of light" quotes scripture against us to make us feel condemned, worthless, unloved, and no good. Perfectionism inspired by the "angel of light" leads us away from God rather than toward Him.

If we recognize that we are being troubled by "bad guilt," the remedy is to act against (Latin: agere contra) those feelings by making acts of faith, hope, and love.

Mortal vs. venial sin

There are three conditions for a mortal sin:

  • It must be an objectively grave matter.
  • We must understand that it is objectively wrong.
  • We must give full consent of our will to the sin in spite of the testimony of our conscience against doing so.

We cannot commit a mortal sin by accident.

Errors in understanding mortal sins

We may inadvertently promote things that are not grave sins into the category of grave sins, or vice versa.

Some people may think that they have a grave obligation to stop other people from sinning and that if they do not actively condemn the actions of their neighbor, they themselves become guilty of their neighbor's wrongdoing. In the vast majority of cases, they are wrong about this. It's different for a parent and child or for a married couple; most cases like this that I encounter are not of that type. We do not have the same moral responsibility to stop sin in others that we do have in our own lives.

Some people treat our Sunday obligation as an absolute, and therefore feel guilty about missing Mass when they are sick, when they are caring for the sick, when they are traveling, when weather prevents them from attending safely, or when they are obliged to work during Mass times. They do not understand that there is no sin when there are good reasons to miss Mass.

Should we confess past sins?

We should most definitely not doubt the perfection of Jesus' mercy for all of our sins every time we go to Confession. Even if we don't say the exact words, in the Act of Contrition we express sorrow for all of our past sins; all are confessed in principle and all are forgiven in fact. The fact that we may feel much guilt and shame over our past behavior is NOT an indication that we are unforgiven; it is a sign of our fallen human nature and an opportunity to preach the gospel to ourselves anew. When we feel that way, we should make many acts of faith, hope, and love. Jesus came to save sinners and to heal the sick. We are fully qualified for His mercy and love.

Our feelings are unreliable guides to spiritual realities because of our fallen human nature, which continues to affect us even though we are "born again" in Baptism.

Perfectionism breeds depression. Faith, hope, and love bear good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Temptations are not sins

St. Padre Pio reminds us that sins are in the will, not in the passions:

"Stop entertaining those vain fears. Remember it is not feeling which constitutes guilt but the consent to such feelings. Only the free will is capable of good or evil. But when the will sighs under the trial of the tempter and does not will what is presented to it, there is not only no fault but there is virtue."

In and of themselves feelings are raw material for making decisions.

  • We are not good people when we have good feelings.
  • We are not bad people when we have bad feelings.

It is very wrong to think, "If God loved me--or if I loved God--then I would never be tempted by feelings like this (pride, lust, anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, etc.). Good people feel good all the time. Since I don't feel good, I must not be good."