What is shame? I think shame is the emotion we feel when we have done something that falls below our standards for ourselves. We feel ashamed, and when others find out they should make us feel ashamed as well.

Our society doesn’t do shame real well. We think it is hurtful and no one should feel ashamed (it leads to low self esteem you know) and no one should make others feel ashamed. Instead we are supposed to accept everyone else’s moral choices and affirm them fully no matter what.
Doesn’t shame, however, have a proper function? Shame helps me remember my standards and try harder next time. Shame is like pain. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s useful. If you put your hand on a hot stove, the pain tells you to take it off real quick. Likewise, shame (the result of felt guilt) should make us change our behavior.
Proper shame is the sign of a well formed conscience. Proper shame is also the result of prayer and contemplation. When we regard the face of the Lord, when we get a glimpse of the Divine Beauty, when we see the edge of glory and know the Divine Goodness we then see ourselves as we really are, and there is an element of shame which is healthy and beautiful and good.
It is summed up in that poignant moment from Cardinal Newman’s Dream of Gerontius when the dying soul is given a glimpse of the Beatific Vision and he cries, “Take me away!” and he is then taken by his angel to the cleansing fire.

  • Jeffrey Smith

    I’m not sure I agree. Our society does shame quite well. It just aims it in all the wrong directions.

  • Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ

    Absolutely Fr!

  • Adrienne

    I prefer guilt to shame (although, I guess they’re the same). Guilt is good. I love guilt. My good friend, who spent lots of time getting in trouble with me when we were young, said before she passed away, “they’re not doing anything we didn’t do. But at least we knew we were doing something wrong.”

  • Terry Nelson

    I know what you mean Father, and shame has its place of course, yet remember the psalmist prays, “take away my shame”… which suggests that certain types of shame are not good, and of course, the sacrament of penance takes away guilt.That said, there is a deeper psychic shame that is extremely detrimental and unhealthy. People who have been abused, sexually or physically, are often imprisoned by it. When we feel guilt, it’s about something we did. When we feel that unhealthy shame, it’s about who we are.This type of shame usually comes from being taught that we are worthless or no good or will never amount to anything. People with this shame often allow themselves to be used and abused as adults, since they have been shamed into believing they are worthless. (Or they seek solace in some form of addictive behavior which they use as a pain-killer. And sometimes, they collapse completely in shame, convinced their “shamers” were right, that they really are no good.)This shame stems back to childhood and is ingrained upon the person’s mind by adults who repeated things like:”You’ll never amount to anything!””You are worthless!””I wish you were never born!””Shame on you!”Or shame was forced upon the vulnerable child by the perpetrators who dehumanized the individual through abuse or sexual exploitation.To be sure, this type of shame doesn’t excuse crime, serious sin, or just bad behavior – but it should be recognized for what it is. Love and mercy – albeit not permissiveness – seems to be the only way of healing it. False praise, affirmation, and flattery is not the way to heal it either.

  • Bernadette

    Shame is what helps us find courage to go in search of a confessional.It is a little like rage and anger. They are a necessary part of love. e.g.My love for The Church and Her teachings, gets riled at certain abuses. As long as those reactions do not hang around for long, they can only help precipitate us towards our own growth in holiness.I think the problem is when shame/anger/lack of self control in general, hang around for longer than necessary, they outlive their natural function and, in fact, works to the opposite end: to embitter us. I don`t know what the conclusion is. Let Go ? when you`ve said your piece, shut up and get your rosary out. It`s what I do, anyway. Until the next time….

  • jasoncpetty

    “Take me away!”Loved that bit. Never read it before. How often have we said in our lives?–”I can’t go in there looking like this“.

  • kentuckyliz

    Newman based his Dream of Gerontius on the writings of St Catherine of Genoa on Purgatory, from her visions and visitations.Terry is exactly right!!!Guilt is “I did bad.”Shame is “I am bad.”People in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction have to deal with guilt and shame, because those are triggers for using. If you are worthless as a person, there’s nothing to lose by drinking or drugging or whatever. Shame leads to despair.Guilt is objective and the voice of conscience, which is the Holy Spirit, the love of God who whispers to us about the law of God written on our hearts.Shame is the voice of Satan tempting the person to self abasement and despair.No one who really believes they are a child of God–really believes it deep down in their soul–can feel shame.Guilt, yes, because even the righteous man sins seven times a day, but we get our sins forgiven and the guilt is gone. So sweet are the words of absolution.Got the image part down.Working on the likeness.Saint under construction.Please excuse the mess.

  • kentuckyliz

    Re shame–people should be highly motivated to use the sacrament of reconciliation for this reason:The General Judgment on the Last Day is public and social. Every thought, word, deed, and omission will be exposed for all to see–as well as the ongoing consequences of our actions, good and bad. Talk about feeling shame!I have a personal theory, that what you “take care of” in the sacrament of reconciliation is utterly blotted out and will not be exposed in the General Judgment.I’d rather go to confession and have utter or relative silence in the General Judgment. Perhaps that is anticipated shame motivating current holy acts in seeking and receiving grace. Sobeit. It works for me.