“You Have Nothing to be Ashamed of”

3rd Sunday of Easter

When I was 26 years old, in my second year of major seminary, I was bothered by a worrisome question or doubt. “Of course, God loves me,” I thought to myself. “He loves everyone – even those in hell. But does he like me? Even the eternally damned are loved by God though they don’t love him back. I know that God loves me, but is he pleased with me?” I was burdened by this question for several weeks until, I believe, God personally addressed my concern.

During the summer of 2007 near the end of an hour of prayer (which is called a “Holy Hour”) sitting in a chapel before Jesus in the tabernacle, I heard him say in my thoughts: “You have nothing to be ashamed of.” I replied that I would love for him to say that, but how could it possibly be true? I knew my sins, and he knew them far better than I. So he would have to convince me.

He asked me, again in my mind, “When you sin in a big way, you always try to get to Confession, right?

Yes,” I answered.

And when you sin in a small way, once you realize you’re doing it, you try to stop, right?

Yes, that’s true.”

And then he said, “You’re for me.”

I recognized in this an echo of a verse from the Letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Jesus was telling me, “If you’re for me, how could I possibly be against you?” The nagging doubt I had carried for a couple of months he resolved in a couple of minutes by highlighting my concern over the very sins which had made me feel ashamed.

On Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, St. Peter preaches to the crowd in Jerusalem:

[Jesus the Christ] you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence when [the governor] had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The Author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.

Peter is charging them as accessories to deicide. He is declaring them guilty accomplices in the murder of God. And this crime is ours as well, because the sins of all humanity sent Jesus to the Cross. But Peter is preaching not to condemn the world to hopeless shame, but so that the world might be saved through Christ. “Repent, therefore, and be converted,” Peter proclaims, “that your sins may be wiped away.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows his disciples the wounds in his hands and feet not as a bitter reproach but that they may share his joy. The greeting of the risen Lord is not “I condemn you,” but rather, “Peace be with you.

As St. John writes in our second reading:

My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin,
we have an Advocate with the Father,

Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only
but for those of the whole world.

In conclusion, know and remember that guilt is different than shame. We should feel guilt for the sins we commit. When I sin, guilt says, “I have done foul, ugly, and unlovely things, and I must repent.” But shame says, “I am foul. I am ugly. I am unlovable. And I cannot be saved.” The feeling of guilt can be a gift from God, but the Evil One wants you to feel ashamed. Shame is unhealthy, causing us to despair and hide from God. Guilt, on the other hand, is useful when it spurs us to conversion, to spiritual health and our salvation.

Jesus loves you and he likes and is pleased by every good thing about you. Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be wiped away and your love of God may be truly perfected in you.

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