During Lent, we are invited to make reconciliation with God and one another a priority on our way to Easter. Sin has caused a rift between ourselves and God, between us and our neighbors, a separation, a turning away, a rejection of the other. Sin is a choice that damages our friendship with God. Reconciliation requires that we deal with this separation, division, sin and …. guilt. We can say it simply: “I was hurtful and I am sorry.” Before we can be reconciled, we need to understand and confront all of these realities we carry within us the most thorny and lingering of which is guilt.
Throughout my high school years, our whole school made a retreat in preparation for Easter. It almost always took me the better part of the year to get over what we heard and the way it was said. The preachers, out of an abundance of zeal, I’m sure, led us to believe that we are to bear life as a burden because Christ died for us. They pointed a finger at us and described our part in the passion of Christ in such detail that they induced in our fragile minds and shaky hearts an overwhelming, inappropriate sense of guilt. Now, many years later, the need to spend time considering sin and guilt in our lives continues. Our Church and we personally have come to emphasize the mercy, goodness, and embrace of God, and not wallow in unhealthy guilt when we are less than loving.
Guilt is a tricky emotion. It makes us uncertain about our next steps in dealing with our willful transgressions in helpful ways. False guilt consumes us, makes us turn against ourselves. It is abusive of who we really are. True guilt moves us on, helps us to reach for and hopefully be restored to our own authentic selves and our relationships with God and others. I once read somewhere that guilt, at its best, makes us look back at sin, recognize it for what it is, and then look forward to reconciliation – to put our emphasis there -- on the forward movement. I am not saying that when we come face to face with our sin or when we think deeply on the meaning of Christ’s passion, that we should feel no sense of guilt. I am saying that we need to shake off, to put aside the undue, improper, unhelpful sense of guilt that boxes us in. Healthy guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body an indication that something is wrong – a dis-ease deep within us. Guilt is unhealthy when we stay in it, as Peter did for a while after his denials of Jesus, when we suppress it as Pilate did. Judas never did look forward. He was truly boxed in.
In Luke, we read about the interchange between Dismas, the so-called good thief, and Jesus. Dismas (Luke 23.39-43) knew healthy guilt. He had led a life of crime, but his words to Jesus came from a repentant heart. Dismas reached out to Jesus, acknowledged his sinfulness, and expected nothing more than to have Jesus hear him. But the generosity of Jesus abounded: forgiveness, and a welcome home. Jesus offered Dismas and, later, any of his disciples who had strayed from His friendship, both companionship and life to the full. That’s what Jesus offers us. There’s no need to take the better part of a year to recover from the Lenten examination of conscience. God has other things for us to do.
By all means, let’s admit our sin, whatever it is. Let’s seek reconciliation, shake off our past and enter into the embrace of Christ. With Him, we can walk confidently into a future that if as fresh as Easter morning.
~ Sister Joan Sobala