What role does shame play in our faith?
The past few days we’ve talked about the different approaches to confession in Christianity and we’ve done so because, I think, confession and shame are so closely related to each other. Then we’ve asked, what can Catholics and Protestants learn from each other in this area?
Let’s start with what Protestants like us can learn from Catholics. For starters, I think having confession serves as an established part of life and serves as a positive reminder of what is a necessary practice. It is emphasized early on and encourages people to develop the habit of confessing. This has the potential to decrease the stigma associated with our shortcomings/wrongdoings and actually decrease shame because we’re all in the melting pot together. We confess and experience forgiveness. All of us. (Of course, it also has the potential to do just the opposite. We may forget that we’re part of a whole community practicing this particular act and, in this way, feel isolated in our confession. But, I’m not going to spend much time on the drawbacks. We already know those.)
I think there’s something quite nice about habitually confessing and hearing the words, “You’re forgiven.” We’ve talked many times about the importance of developing the kinds of habits we value. Once habits are developed and established they become ingrained in our daily life and it’s much harder to stop than it is to keep going. It would be great to habitually, freely, and honestly share. I also think that it must be important to physically hear someone pronounce forgiveness. I feel like I’m always kind of guessing as to whether or not I’ve been forgiven. I’ve never heard these words. I know that the Protestant church teaches that any confession results in forgiveness. I doubt the process is actually that quick or simple. When it says God “will” forgive us and cleanse us…does that mean it happens right away?
In this way, I find myself living in the shame of the “unknown”. Now, I suspect being Catholic wouldn’t cure that, but I do think that practicing confession in a new way (to me) would be both corrective and healing to some extent. In short, there are plenty of things we can learn from their practice of confession, but a few I like the most are 1. Habits and 2. Experiencing forgiveness in the context of a relationship with a real person with an audible voice.