The Most Precious Gift, Shame

St. Peter in Prison, Rembrandt van Rijn

The moment of my greatest shame is the recognition that I have allowed my gaze to fall from God and given my heart to the fleeting pleasures of this world through sins of desire, or rage, or most often, pride. That does not mean that I walk around with my shoulders bowed, weeping tears of guilt. No, the more I come to know the shame of sin the more my heart fills with joy. 

Imagine the shame of Peter, so confident that he would defend his dearest friend, his teacher and savior. Peter had no doubt when he said, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken mine will never be.” (Mt 26:33) He had no doubt because he was filled with pride and incapable of relying fully on the Lord. How the immensity of his shame must have crushed him as he denied the one who had given him everything. Yet from that shame Peter rises. He finds redemption through his proclamation of love and devotion to service. Without shame Peter would have walked away from temple the night of Jesus trial a man without a future, a man without a mission. There would be no St. Peter without shame, only greater souls who failed and learned through their failure to become more. 

Shame, like the brain’s pain sensors, is the spiritual mechanism for growing us in holiness. We do not have to hate and reject our shame or feel that it makes us less human. It actually is what makes us most fully human. Shame is God’s way of reminding us that we have missed the mark, our sins have led us away from completeness. So Christ says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:15) This, the Lord asks us all, do you love me more than the things of this world, do you love me more than yourself? Every time we experience shame we should hear this question echoing in our minds. Somewhere, somehow we have failed to love God or love our neighbor as well as we ought.

The problem is to think that shame should be abandoned or that to have shame makes us worthless. Only one voice uses shame to accuse us and drive us to despair and that voice is not of God. So rather than trying to avoid shame or deceive ourselves that we are always perfect and complete just the way we are, consider the experience of shame. What exactly has gone wrong in that moment, why do we feel a sickness within? Or why the rage that needs to lash out at another? Shame is the antidote to apathy and the spark which enflames the saints. Rather than wallowing in the shame-less muck of relativism we must grasp the moral imperative to live for something greater. It will be a harder road but one of infinity more promise.

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