What is shame?

What is shame?  Do we even know what shame is anymore?  Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

Sound vaguely familiar?  Long before I was Catholic I experienced shame over things I had done and I'm sure most of us have felt shame at some point in our lives, but in our modern day, everyone's business seems to be out there and there's almost a "how dare you judge me" attitude.

There are no shortcomings or impropriety.  There are no feelings of guilt.  There is no sin.

I think shame is a good thing.  Even if you are not religious, having shame about something should keep you from repeating your mistakes, hurting others and hurting yourself.

If you are religious, shame might start to define you.  It will eat away at you.  Who am I in Christ Jesus?  Am I that sin that I committed?

Years after I converted, I struggled with something I had done "back in the day."  It was eating at me and I didn't know why.  I knew I would never repeat that mistake, but I couldn't let it go.

I finally went to confession and afterward the priest asked me why I was there.  He knew me well enough to know that I wasn't going to do that again.  After thinking long and hard about it, I realized why I was there.  The enormity and shame of what I had done all those years ago hit me like one of those boulders in the Looney Tunes cartoons.


After the confession, I felt like a new person, washed clean and ready to take on the world.

Yep.  Shame is a good thing.  We need to bring it back.

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

What good is shame?

Shame safeguards a person's intimate space: his mystery, his most personal and inmost being, his dignity, but especially his capacity for love and sexual self-giving. It relates also to that which only love may see.

Many young Christians live in an environment where it is taken for granted that everything should be on display and people are systematically trained to ignore feelings of shame. But shamelessness is inhuman. Animals experience no shame. In a human being, in contrast, it is an essential feature. It does not hide something inferior but rather protects something valuable, namely, the dignity of the person in his capacity to love. The feeling of shame is found in all cultures, although it assumes different forms. It has nothing to do with prudery or a repressive upbringing. A person is also ashamed of his sins and other things that would demean him if they were made generally known. Someone who offends another person's natural feeling of shame by words, glances, gestures, or actions robs him of his dignity. (CCC section (2521-2525) and other references here)

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Tags: shame

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