On Catholic Guilt and the Shepherd’s Voice | 4th Sunday of Easter 2019

I saw a post recently on facebook that said, “Don’t make fun of your mom for not knowing how to use her iPhone; remember, she taught you how to use a spoon.” This got me thinking, what other important things has my mom taught me?

When I was little, we used to have bathroom cleaning classes. If I didn’t do something to her liking, she’d say, “I think it’s time for another class.” She insists that I write thank you notes for everything, sometimes, I fear, even for thank you notes I’ve received. And, of course, she’s constantly reminding me about going to the dentist.

My mom grew up in St. Louis de Montfort parish on Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Lawn, which means that I belong to a very happy clan of the South Side Irish. This means that one of the major things I learned from my mom was Catholic guilt.

Catholic guilt is a favorite of ex-Catholics, anti-Catholics, and even many of us to use as an excuse or to fall back on when criticizing or lamenting the hard line the Church draws on the way Christians live their lives. Remember, though, that “Catholic guilt” is actually just called “guilt” and is defined by Webster’s as “a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation.”

Sometimes, of course, others use the power of guilt to make us feel bad or to assert their dominance; I’m not talking about this kind of guilt.

Catholic guilt is just called “guilt” and this morning I want to propose that feeling guilty can actually be a good thing. Feeling guilty means that your conscience is alive and well. The conscience – that little voice in the back of our heads, so classically illustrated in cartoons as the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – is unavoidable. It is, in fact, one of the most important and most effective ways that the Holy Spirit both guides our actions and responds to our actions.

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We are the sheep, and we hear his gentle voice; we feel bad for something wrong when we hear that voice whisper in our conscience, “you’re better than that; you’re made for more than that.”

The shepherd knows and loves his sheep. So much of our sin comes from the conviction that we are not known or loved, by God or by anyone else. We are unknown, unloved, invisible, alone. So we go wandering looking for affirmation, someone to know us, someone to commune with. More wandering = more sin = numb conscience = recklessness, cultivating and maintaining the idea of a self-centered cosmos, and general unhappiness.

We are living in a time when it is very fashionable, chic, and “progressive” to mock God and the Church; the people who criticize the Church are the enlightened ones. They’re not; they’re just sad, wandering. The real tragedy is not what people say or do against the Church, including all of us sitting here who regularly choose our own wills and whims over a relationship with God (this is called “sin”), but that so many people do not believe they are already known and loved by the one whose attention they’re ultimately seeking.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the conscience only comes into play in “big” situations. Hopefully you hear the voice of God say, “don’t kill that guy” long before you’re about to pull the trigger. The voice of the Shepherd is present in the littlest moments of life.

It’s a Friday in Lent and you’re driving past McDonald’s and you’re like the rest of the world who hates the Filet-o-Fish so you decide to get a Big Mac. “Don’t do it, you don’t need it, get a LeanCusine instead…”

It’s 8:00am on Sunday and you know should get up and come to Mass like you’d planned but it’s so cozy in your little nook. “Get up and go.”

It’s a quiet, rainy Saturday and the closing credits come on followed by the button: Next Episode? “You haven’t prayed at all today”. Eh, 7 hours of Riverdale won’t kill me.

The conscience gets numb and we begin to think we’re invincible.

“Only God can judge me.” And he will!

“God knows me, he loves me, he knows my intentions are good.” The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

“My god lets me do whatever I want; he knows I’m trying to be a good person.” If your god lets you do whatever you want, your god is probably you.

Conscience is the combination of two Latin words, “con” (with) and “scientia” (knowledge). That voice we hear speaks to us the knowledge and love of God for us. My sheep hear my voice, the know my voice. They know my voice because I speak to them! Why do I speak to them? Because I know them, and love them, and want them with me.

Catholic guilt is just called “guilt” and it’s a good thing because it means that Jesus knows you and is reaching out to you; he is helping you, guiding you, walking with you, and leading you back to himself. Yes, it can be annoying at times, but feeling guilt is a reminder to me that even in the midst of the dumb stuff I get into that I am known and loved and that the voice which calls me out is doing so in love and for the purpose of bringing me back to himself.

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