Got Guilt?

I'm always on the lookout for new podcasts, and today I discovered one called The Adaptors. Each episode tells the story how people--farmers, inventors, and corporate leaders--are adapting to the reality of climate change.

Ira Flatow of Science Friday interviewed the host of The Adaptors, Flora Lichtman, and they talked about "climate guilt." Ira, the staff of Science Friday, Flora, and some callers all shared some of their climate regrets. They all confessed to things they knew they should have done to address climate change but didn't.

If I ever had to teach someone about the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, I would make sure I shared this podcast with them, because there was a lot of wisdom shared about confession, guilt, and penance. For example:

  • Don't feel bad. After all, we're all sinners. You are not alone! The goal of confession is not to make you feel bad--after all, you're just like everybody else. Rather, the goal of confession is to inform your decision making to help you make better choices.
  • Focus on the things that really matter. Sometimes, we can focus on little things while ignoring the really big things that damage our relationships. For me, the sin is not calling the guy on the train an asshole; the sin is that I could rob him of his dignity so casually.
  • State your desire to be better. When we pray the Act of Contrition, we "firmly resolve to do penance, to sin no more, and avoid whatever leads us to sin." We state that we know we are called to be better, we can be better, and we want to be better. We commit ourselves to trying.
  • Face up to the implications. Our actions have consequences, for ourselves and others. No sin is only a personal act. When we perform penance, we admit that our actions have hurt others and do what we can to affect healing.

Internalizing guilt does us no good; we always end up paying for it some other way. That's why Reconciliation is such an important part of my spiritual life--instead of beating myself up, I end up learning from my mistakes and making amends for the harm I have caused.