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Many years ago, I was talking with my spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Reyes, O.F.M., about something I did that I was ashamed of. He told me: "You should get down on your knees and thank God you have been given a full measure of shame." Taken aback, I asked, "What do you mean?"
He then explained remorse or shame over one's actions was a good thing, and if acted upon, could lead a man to sanctity. For his justification of how shame was a good thing, Fr. Joe talked about the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
Shame, he reminded, was what motivated the Samaritan woman to venture to the well at noon during the heat of the day. She carried such a large burden of shame on her shoulders that she would rather endure the heat of the day than the scorn of her neighbors.
To this woman's surprise, there was someone at the well, and to her further astonishment, this Jewish man, instead of disdaining conversation with her, spoke to her, a Samaritan and a woman. Ironic as all this was, if the woman had not felt shame, she would have never ventured out in the day's heat. Nor would she have there encountered Jesus and opened her heart to Him in the course of their conversation.
Shameless people, who are cocksure of themselves, may sustain a conversation with a stranger they meet on the street. But they don't open their hearts to an outsider and make a declaration that He is Lord.
Explaining shame in spiritual direction, Fr. Joe insisted, "There are fundamentally two types of people — those who do something bad, and after they have done it, they have shame and remorse. These individuals a priest can work with to move beyond their sinful behavior toward holiness."
The other type of people, he explained, seldom darken a confessional. And even when invited to do so, they don't venture there because their hearts are so hardened. Shame simply does not plague them; having fallen outside the sanctifying grace that would free them, they are on their way to becoming reprobates. When hearing the confessions of penitents, most priests only hear the confessions of those blessed by God with a good dose of shame. And these confessions are often made through copious tears.
As a priest for many years, I have encountered in my parish many shameless individuals who should avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation. But they seldom do, even with prodding. These types are known to berate their kids, beat their spouses and, well, worse. As a pastor, you have to take a hard line with these shameless types, passing them by when distributing Communion or intervening when they stand on the Church steps to pontificate after Mass.
Forty years have passed since I last spoke to Fr. Joe as my spiritual director, and I have often thought back to that grace-filled day when he explained the importance of shame in a man's spiritual development.
The priest has long since died, may God rest his soul. As a spiritual director, he was among the best! He would be greatly saddened about how shameless our society is now. People now advertise their preferred lusts with various flags and celebrate every manner of impurity — as if anyone really wants to know his neighbor's sexual preference.
In this libertine society, shame for anything is a rarity. Perhaps the only remnant of shame left concerns one's income or social standing. Both of these items many people tend to inflate rather than let it slip that they are poor.
Traversing life as a disciple of Christ in a shame-free world is not easy. But, some guidelines are necessary to walk the path to holiness. For starters, the faithful disciple keeps the rules in the forefront of his mind; he keeps the Ten Commandments. He adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church and to Her Sacred Tradition. And he keeps God's natural law.
For the disciple of Christ, God's natural law, the Ten Commandments, Jesus' mandates and the Church's dogmas are all unchangeable. And they are as important today for all created beings as they were the day they were revealed. The idea today, prevalent in many sectors — that the Ten Commandments can be abridged, or that the Church's dogmas can be modernized, or that Christ's mandates can be adjusted — is just ludicrous.
God gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai for humanity to keep — not to talk about, or after some committee meeting, to alter. The ruse du jour, being promoted by many, is the thought that after a listening session or two, dogma or doctrine can simply be changed. It cannot. As recorded in our Sacred Scriptures, Who God is and what He wants from his creation is crystal clear.
Theologians may scrabble over a term St. Paul used in a letter of his. But the core teachings of the Faith cannot be altered. God and thus His Church is perfect, holy, one and unchanging — and so is revealed truth. So far, I have been able to resist going to any so-called listening sessions. The thought of having to sit through the ramblings of umpteen poorly formed Catholics is repulsive.
Recall what God revealed to Hosea 4:6: "My people are ruined for lack of knowledge!"
As Our Lord said in Matthew 15:14: "If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit."
God, in centuries past, did not reveal Himself to a room full of people at some "listening session" but rather to saintly men and women who proved themselves worthy by their life of holiness. Despite all the media hype, nothing will come from these modern-day sessions.
A core belief of the libertines, who have taken control of our world today, is that there are no laws — at least not for them, as they are above these. Let me explain.
Yesterday evening, I went grocery shopping and witnessed two shoppers dealing with their shopping carts after unloading groceries into their cars. One elderly woman nimbly made her way across puddles to return her cart to the corral. Another, a 20-something young man, ditched his cart into the handicapped parking spot next to his car. The contrast between the young and the old, the thoughtful as compared to the thoughtless, was marked. What I witnessed prompted me to have a good look at the condition of the parking lot, and it was disturbing. Grocery carts had been ditched here, there and everywhere, except in the corral built for them.
Proud libertine Americans in 2022 adhere to few, if any, rules. For those in power, no rules apply. For those not in power, well, all the rules are for them. "Remember to put your mask back into place between bites," a rabid stewardess shouted in my ear on a flight not too long ago. If she could see the countless videos of the maskless rule-makers, would she admonish them too? Shame has become a powerful tool for those who will not be ruled and against those whom they wish to rule.
Despite the astronomical increase of murder, rape and all manner of crime across our country over the last couple of years, few, if any, are talking about what will turn this all around. What will restore civility to civil society?
What will end this exponential rise in evil is for humanity to again worship God as well as begin again to adhere to the natural law and Ten Commandments. Apart from this, no amount of new gun control laws, child protection services or other legal efforts are going to alter our civilization's descent into chaos.
The devout disciple of Christ — he who keeps God's laws and strives in the course of his day-to-day life to be holy — attains a great gift: integrity. It's a precious gift that cannot be bought or sold, although some try.
Such a person contrasts with the man who is shameless and could care less about keeping God's laws or the rights of others. The man with integrity remains vigilant against aggrieving others or his Creator lest he incur shame. Shame and its accompanying guilt are both graces if they move the disciple to repent of misdeeds and move forward on the path to holiness.
As Jesus said; "So be perfect; just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
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