A sacrament for healing shame

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | March 21, 2019 | 0 Comments

It is always surprising to me that people turn out in such great numbers for Ash Wednesday Mass. The symbol of ashes on the forehead is an ancient symbol of repentance. It is an acknowledgment that I have sinned and I need God’s mercy. Perhaps so many people come on Ash Wednesday because deep down they recognize a basic human need ­— the need to be freed from shame.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

Despite the many pages written in modern psychology about shame, nothing captures this need more clearly than the first chapters of the Bible. In the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, the only statement made about their interior life is that “they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25). This is what it meant to stand in the light of God’s love. However, as soon as they sin and separate themselves from God, Adam and Eve hide. Why? Because they are ashamed (Gn 3:8).

This feeling of shame is a universal human experience. It is the feeling that I have done something wrong and I don’t want others to know about it. It is the desire to hide my weakness, my imperfections and my failures from others. When it becomes strong — and it usually does in all of us — we can begin to feel that I am not enough, that I need to be something more, there is something wrong with me, and I need to hide my weakness or failure. Many of our addictions and other psychological struggles can be explained by this feeling of shame. We get pretty good at hiding it by always trying to put forward our strengths, but we can’t hide from ourselves or from God. Shame will always catch up with us.

There is really only one way out of our shame: through mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is love turned toward me in my sin. To receive mercy, I must seek forgiveness. That is, I must acknowledge the wrong that I have done and experience that, despite my sin, I am still loved by the one I wronged. This is in fact the greatest love I can experience, since it is love in my failure and sinfulness, precisely the place where I don’t love myself. When I experience this mercy, it heals shame by bringing my failure and sin into the light of love.

There are many examples of this in the Bible, from the prodigal son (Lk 15) to the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair (Lk 7:36-50). They all experience healing from shame when they realize Jesus knows them and their sin and still he loves them.

24 HOURS FOR THE LORDTo highlight the importance of the sacrament of confession, Pope Francis has asked the Church throughout the world to once again host “24 hours for the Lord.” From noon March 29 until noon March 30 priests will be available to hear confessions at the Cathedral of St. Paul. St. John the Baptist in Excelsior will also host 24 Hours for the Lord 5 p.m. March 29 to 5 p.m. March 30. Check parishes’ bulletins and websites for other confession times throughout the season of Lent.

This is why Jesus gives us the sacrament of confession. He knows that ultimately it is the only way to true healing. Even in the Old Testament, as people sought healing from sin, they came to the temple and confessed their sins before God. This practice is continued in the New Testament period (“confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” Jas 5:16) and throughout the history of the Church.

In the early Church, confession was the way we dealt with the most serious sins of apostasy, adultery or murder. Penitents confessed their sins to the bishop and received ashes on their foreheads as they entered a period of penance, preparing to have their sins forgiven through sacramental absolution at Easter. (Doesn’t this sound like Lent?) Gradually over the years, the Church realized that confession was good for all our sins because it allows God’s healing power to be applied right to the wound, the place where I am ashamed. Still today, anyone who is conscious of grave sin is required to bring those particular sins to confession before receiving holy Communion.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, healing from the shame I feel in my sin requires me not to hide, but rather to acknowledge my sin and bring it into the light of God’s merciful love. This is why the sacrament of confession is so healing. When I finally admit that I am a sinner and concretely acknowledge before God and the priest in the sacrament what I have done, there I can experience the truth of God’s love for me. There I can experience that God desires to take away the shame of my sin and let me know how much I am loved by him.

Since the beginning of time every human being has had to deal with shame. Jesus himself endured the shame of sin on the Cross to heal shame in us. He gave this power to his Church to do this in the sacrament of confession (Jn 20:23).

Don’t miss the chance this Lent to receive this healing. Jesus invites you to bring the things of which you are most ashamed into the healing light of his love. Come to confession. Jesus is longing to show you the depth of his merciful love, especially in those places where we are ashamed.

Un sacramento para sanar la vergüenza

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Category: Only Jesus