Today, I planned to get church early this morning before the rest of my orientation. Finding a Catholic church in Oxford was a bit difficult at first, but finally people helped me to track down a few options. After researching them, I began to look forward to seeing how each church held Mass. Although I planned to go to a normal Mass on Sunday, other days held the promise of Latin Masses, High Masses, and famous choirs. What a lovely way to spend each Sunday!
Falling asleep proved difficult last night, so I stayed up until nearly 2:00 Oxford time. Despite being drained, my body refused to relax. Finally, I forced my eyes to shut in an attempt to get ready for another busy day.
Thus, I overslept this morning. To my horror, the clock showed 12:15. Not only was it much later in the day than I ever slept, the Mass I planned to attend was already over by then.
Horror filled me, and guilt plagued me for the rest of the day. How could I have missed Mass? It was the first time in months if not years. Never before have I skipped church on a Sunday purposefully. Perhaps this was all of my fault. How dare I sin in this way?
Catholic guilt is often the subject of jokes or shame from other denominations or faiths. Yet, the fact that many Catholics feel so much guilt makes me rather sad. Feeling bad when you make a mistake can be a good thing. If your guilt motivates you to make amends with others or stop doing something destructive, then this emotion can be very helpful.
However, when you continue to dwell on your guilt, it turns into shame. Instead of using your feelings to grow as a person, you begin to hate yourself and mistreat yourself as well as others. This can be the danger of Catholic guilt (or any other type of guilt) if it changes for the worse.
Today, I had to forgive myself. Yes, I made a mistake, but God will understand. Multiple prayers of apology filled my day. Fitting against my anger at myself and self-compassion was difficult. Whenever I began to calm down, the shame bubbled up again. Finally, I just decided to let both the feelings of guilt and acceptance be inside of me.
Learning how to be Catholic or non-Catholic and live with guilt but not shame is difficult. However, I believe that it is possible. Difficult, yes, but still possible. My hope is that I can slowly make it to that place.