Good Old Catholic Guilt

Christ Church

Statutes in the wall at Christ Church

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.

Christ Church

Going to Eveningsong at Christ Church

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.


14 thoughts on “Good Old Catholic Guilt

  1. MEM says:

    Well put, Rose with Thorns, that you decided to allow the guilt and acceptance both dwell inside you. It is not a sin to miss Mass if it is done unintentionally – and your body is certainly still working hard to adjust to a new time. I believe that God has compassion for you, so give yourself some self-compassion.

  2. neodecaussade says:

    Dear Rose with Thorn,
    I will pray for you.

    God bless,

  3. jefairgrieve says:

    Self-acceptance is so difficult, especially at times such as the one you describe. I’m an Episcopalian now, but I was a Catholic at one time, so I understand. The way I look at it is that we are fallible beings–even the Pope admits his fallibility, his humanity. We definitely are NOT perfect–only one Being is perfect. So sometimes we err. When I do that, I confess my error to God, ask God’s forgiveness, and go on with my life, trying to avoid making the same error again. However, if I do it again, then I go through the same process, try to figure out why I made the mistake again, and then try harder to not make the mistake. But I don’t judge myself because the shame that may arise would take energy that I need for positive, healthy living–a life in which I appreciate God’s gifts and other people. Spending so much of my time and energy blaming myself hinders me from loving and worshipping God. At least, this is the way I look at the matter.

    It’s taken me a long time to get to this place in my life, but my inner life is a lot more peaceful now that I have gotten here. Each of us travels a slightly different road, and I wish you blessings and peace on your journey, Anna Rose. By sharing your journey, you are helping many, many fellow travelers find their own peace. Peace be with you, my friend.

  4. seanmirza says:

    Dear Rose
    God is Most Compassionate. More than your actions He is knowledgeable of intentions. You had intended to attend church for the sole reason to remember and worship God but God was aware that your body needed rest. He blessed you with a restful sleep knowing well that you are the kind of person who would remember and worship whether you make it to church or not. And you did. You are a blessed person. May God in His infinite Mercy and Glory shower His Blessings upon. Stay in Faith, my friend.

  5. drew delaney says:

    I wish more people had a heart after God like you do. He is most pleased with you. Guilt is from the devil, you know. Peace is from God. Although, we must walk keeping the commandments, He is a loving God. Don’t allow Satan to take your peace with our Saviour away.

  6. jefairgrieve says:

    I agree! It is unfortunate that wisdom comes with age. I’m 75 and am looking at the short end of my lifespan. Wish I’d known what I know now when I was in my 30s. But I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on using the wisdom/insight I’ve acquired to make the last part of my life a whole lot better than the first. But you are so very right–it’s sad that the healing process takes so long. And it will never be complete, at least not on this earth. But we do what we can do . . .

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