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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

You say that forgiveness from God is there waiting for my acceptance. I believe that is true, to some extent. If I say today, “Well, my past is no longer an obstacle, I have been forgiven.” I would feel as if I was fooling myself into thinking that I “got away” with the horrible things I did in my past. Who’s to say, that as long as I accept God’s forgiveness for my past, that I won’t do something just as horrible tomorrow and ask for forgiveness and then say the same thing? I know I am not explaining myself well at all. I am trying to say that I think my past matters a great deal to God. If I don’t suffer the guilt and horror and literal revulsion of what I did, I don’t think God would forgive. Then the question is, “How much is enough?”

Outline of the Answer
• Self-guarantee
• The Mockery Made of Baptism
• God Forgives Anything
• Reparation
• Repentance is Love
• When is Enough Enough?
• Sorrow and Guilt
• Perseverence in Love

 
Actually, you’re asking the same sort of question that Martin Luther asked, and we know what he ended up doing. He couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty and hard work of ardent devotion, so he formed his own church in which he guaranteed himself salvation just by saying he accepted Christ as his savior. Neat, simple, and painless. Protestants today still believe it. But it’s all wrong.

 
The Mockery Made of Baptism

Yes, Christ paid for our sins through His Passion and death, and each of us enters into that redemption at baptism. Most often this is infant baptism, however, and most parents—whether through outright disobedience or through ignorance and apathy—do almost nothing thereafter except indoctrinate their children into popular culture and a life of continuing sin. So it is almost inevitable, in most modern families, that children will imitate their parents’ hypocrisy and commit a multitude of sins after their baptism. What then?

 
God Forgives Anything

Well, if you repent and confess your sins and ask God for mercy, God forgives anything and He forgives any number of times. When His disciples asked how many times they had to forgive someone—one? two? seven?—Christ told them to forgive “seventy times seven.” Peter denied Him three times, and still Christ forgave Peter.

But notice that after the Resurrection Christ asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-19). Peter was obliged to answer three times. And each time Christ told him, “Feed My sheep.”

So what is this all about? It’s about reparation.

 
Reparation

Forgiveness is one thing—it means that God won’t push you away for doing bad things if you turn back to Him with heartfelt sorrow for the evil you have done. But you still have to “pay” for the evil that you, as God’s own anointed, have brought into the world through your sin.

  

When you commit sin, you defile love. And when you defile love, you blaspheme the name of God, who is love.

  

Now, please be careful not to think that God is like some irrational, angry parent who has to be appeased out of fear. The point about penance is that once we recognize the great damage our sins have caused, we become motivated by love itself to help others achieve the same understanding about their sins. Christ sacrificed Himself to save us from our sins, and in turn He asks all of us, just as He asked Peter, to “feed My sheep”—that is, to love others—in perfect imitation of Him as the path to spiritual purity.

The best penance to pay for your mistakes now, before you die, is to spread the seeds of spiritual fruit. It’s similar to alms giving, which is a traditional penance. Just as giving alms requires a giving of money from your resources, spreading the seeds of your spiritual fruit is also a giving of yourself. Without arrogance and pride holding you back, you can start to produce spiritual fruit, and the seeds that you spread—that is, the holy influence you have on others—is a fitting penance for having previously stifled your spiritual development—and for cheating others in the process.

 
Repentance is Love

Moreover, Saint Catherine of Genoa showed us that, if we do repent our sins and seek spiritual purity now, the price we pay for purification in this life is nothing compared to the price we would have to pay in Purgatory.

That is, if you repent in this life, and if you spend the rest of your life in sacrifice and prayer for the good of others, that’s true love. That’s what it means to feed Christ’s sheep.

On the other hand, if your repentance is imperfect—that is, if it’s largely intellectual rather than profoundly experiential—then (assuming you avoid mortal sin and die in a state of grace) you will learn perfection through the fire of God’s love in Purgatory.

 
When is Enough Enough?

But what about that reparation in this life? How do you know when is it enough? Well, there’s no way to know.

  

In this life, we must always dwell in the vast gulf between the satisfaction of the good we have done and the unknowing of what we have yet to do.

  

Some of us don’t like that answer. But it’s really the only answer. And ultimately it doesn’t matter, and here’s where many of us miss the point.

Some of us are correct in perceiving that, for many Catholics, confession is just an intellectual superstitious ritual: despite repeated confessions, some persons keep repeating the same sins over and over, and their behavior never changes.

Some of us are also correct in realizing that repentance for sin has to come from the heart, not just intellectually, and that real love is the key to man’s relation to God.

But all are wrong who hold the belief that once a person experiences this repentance from the heart, guilt is removed, and from there on the person is guaranteed salvation.

The truth is that your openness to love must be understood as a continuous process of growth, a process subject to temptations, doubts, and the danger of failing to persevere to the end. Consequently, the success of love in your heart cannot be guaranteed; it must be nourished with constant prayer and sacrifice. Love must be protected with the sacraments. Love must be defended with sorrow, especially the sorrow that comes from seeing Christ’s Sacred Heart constantly wounded by sin.

Love, therefore, can never be “enough”—at least, not in this life. Only in Purgatory can love attain the purification necessary to stand directly in God’s presence.

 
Sorrow and Guilt

Notice here that sorrow and guilt are two different things, psychologically. 

Guilt results from childhood psychological wounds of family dysfunction. Parents all too often fear real love themselves and shrink from the time and hard work it takes to teach their children real love. So the parents resort to using guilt to control their children, constantly telling the children that they are “bad” and threatening the children with the fear of punishment in hell.[1]

Now, if this happened to you, in your inability to understand just why your parents were so mean, you most likely came to believe that something must really be wrong with you and that you really deserved everything that happened to you. Thus you cultivated a secret shame—and guilt—yearning to be punished for being defective. Furthermore, you would have become angry at your parents because of their dysfunction—and then you would have become so terrified of your anger that you secretly desired to be punished for your anger. Call it a sort of double masochistic whammy.

Thus whenever you do (or feel or think) something “bad” you don’t want to admit it or seek help because you are terrified of the scorn that will be inflicted on you if anyone discovers your secret. And so you do anything to hide from discovery, while your secret festers in the dark depths of your heart. Moreover, in this forlorn state, you are far removed from real love because all the good you do for others is motivated unconsciously by the desire to appease others to keep them from abandoning you if they should discover your real thoughts and feelings.

  

Some psychological disorders have their own peculiar way of seeking protection from guilt with their own means, rather than by turning back to God and seeking His mercy. 

Individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) hold the belief that guilt must be neutralized with ritualistic behaviors.

Individuals with paranoia suppress the awareness of their own guilt by projecting it onto the environment, thus creating the belief that others are out to get them.[2]

Individuals with depression identify with their guilt, thus getting stuck in the belief that they are bad.[3]

  

Sorrow means that you feel the pain of all the hurt you have inflicted on others, that you acknowledge all of your inadequacy that you have hidden from God, and then, willing to do anything to remedy the mess you’re in, you throw yourself into Christ’s unfathomable mercy.

Feeling true sorrow, you open your mind and your heart to move past your mistakes into purification: to learn, to grow, and to be formed by God.

With guilt transformed into sorrow, then, instead of doing good for others to make them like you, you can do good for them for their own sake, because of your humble joy for what they will gain.

So when you say, “No more sin. I’m sick of it,” something in your heart changes, even if your behavior doesn’t change instantly because of it. You simply start a process of change by which you learn to surrender yourself completely to divine love, so that desire for the holy becomes your primary desire. 

 
Perseverence in Love

There’s no way to know how far you will get; that is, how much will be paid in this life and how much will remain for Purgatory. All that matters, as in the example of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, is perseverance. Feel the pain and don’t run away. Trust in God’s love to do with you what needs to be done. Let real love—love of God and love for yourself and others—become your primary desire, make the Blessed Sacrament your nourishment, and turn to the communion of saints for companionship. (And it will be of great benefit if you consecrate yourself to the Blessed Virgin [4] so as to help you trust in nothing but Christ’s mercy.)

  

Children who grow up in dysfunctional families often have a hard time with this. In compensation for all the abuse they suffer in their families, they create the mistaken idea that love has no limits or rules and essentially means total unconditional acceptance of anything they do. But, as the Bible makes clear, God’s love has very clear rules and commandments. Why? Because God is mean and arbitrary, like a bitter, irrational parent? No! God doesn’t do anything for vengeance; on the contrary, He does everything to lead us to our ultimate good and purification. In the end, God’s love has a purpose to it—to free us from our slavery to sin—and our response must be unconditional love for, and acceptance of, that purpose.

  

Some of us, too, have a hard time with this perseverence into real love. Instead, they put their trust in common “love” and throw the Blessed Sacrament—along with the Blessed Virgin—out of their churches into the gutter. And then they proudly declare themselves “saved.”

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1. Fear of hell does nothing to inspire love for God, and so the children end up being wounded by—and hating—their parents’s hypocrisy.

2. When really it is their own guilt that condemns them.

3. Rather than accept the theological truth that they are essentially good beings who have done bad things.

4. Complete instructions for the Consecration to Jesus through Mary can be found in Saint Louis Marie de Montfort’s book, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

 


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