Mealtimes are always hazardous at the Trovato house. You never know what the kids are going to launch at you. Now Ant is at University, the odds aren’t quite so bad, and once Bernie goes to her new university in a week or two I may stand a chance: it will only be two to one.

But at the moment, even without Ant, the other three make a formidable team. As so often, it was Bernie who started it, just as I had put a forkful of spaghetti into my mouth. Charlie and Dominique pitched in of course, as soon as they got the chance.

B: Why are Catholics so guilt-ridden?

Me [through spaghetti]: Mmnngh?

B: I mean, everyone talks about Catholic Guilt, and it’s true.

C: I’m not.

D: You should be: you took the biggest bit of cake last night – and we had visitors!

Me: When you say it’s true, what do you mean?

D: I mean, he really took the biggest bit!

Me: No, I was talking to Bernie…

B: I mean that loads of Catholics seem guilty all the time and have a real hang up about it.

Me: Maybe it’s partly because we are much more aware of how far we fall short of goodness. You know: much is expected because much has been given. And in most other Christian denominations, although the ultimate standard is the same, it’s much easier to let yourself off the hook.

C: What do you mean, the standard’s the same?

Me: What I mean, Charlie, is that Our Lord said ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ By that standard we all have plenty to feel guilty about.

D: But why is it easier for others to let themselves off the hook?

Me: I think there’s a couple of reasons: because in most other denominations, you decide when you have done something wrong – so it’s easy to make excuses for yourself, and also because all you have to do is say sorry to God and that’s it, whereas we have to go to confession, which makes it a much bigger deal.

B: No, that can’t be right. I mean, I know we have more rules and things, like going to Mass every Sunday and so on. But as we have confession, surely we should feel less guilty?

Me: We should in one way. Certainly, once we are forgiven, we should not agonise over our failings: we should believe we are truly forgiven. But one of the graces of Confession is a much clearer awareness of our sinfulness; that should be a help – to help us to avoid sin in the future – but could also lead to a heightened sense of guilt.

C: Anyway, I don’t believe in this Catholic Guilt thing. No, don’t interrupt, Bernie, I know everyone goes on about it, but actually it’s the Catholics who don’t go to confession – or even Mass – any more, who are on the guilt trips. Part of them knows they should, but they don’t: and instead of dealing with it, they make themselves feel better by talking about “Catholic Guilt.”

Me: You could be onto something there.

B: Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…

C: Who are you calling a babe?

Me: Hey, you two. Eat up your spaghetti before it goes cold! But you’re right, Charlie. Guilt is like pain: it’s the sign something has gone wrong, and the correct response is to find out what and put it right. And then the guilt disappears.

So this week’s challenge is to consider how to teach your kids to feel appropriate guilt, recognise the reasons for it, and what to do about it… If you want to keep your kids Catholic, that, along with regular confession, is essential.

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4 Responses to Keeping Your Kids Catholic: Catholic Guilt

  1. YoungCanRCMale says:

    So Ben, why do your kids ask so many of these questions? Are they just testing your faith or did you let them do this? Or is this typical teenagehood trying to look for a reason not to be Catholic, as those years are the years of rebellion?

    I'm just curious cause the average kid doesn't do this much questioning of this sort. They'd rather be plugged into their little electronic devices or just outright say their disgust for the faith of their parents and not go to Mass after Confirmation.

  2. Ben Trovato says:

    Thanks for the questions – and what an interesting one! I have never stopped to consider why they ask so much. I think it is because we always have lively conversations at meal times and debate all sorts of stuff. To be fair, I'm always asking them questions to get then to think about the things they say – a sort of Socratic approach; so I suppose they have learned it from me. I certainly encourage it: I would far rather they asked questions and thought intelligently about their Faith – and felt comfortable asking about the bits they found difficult – than simply lose interest or decide it's all meaningless.

  3. Willy says:

    I think it takes a lot of audacity to suggest that catholics have a harder time "letting themselves off the hook." It would certainly make catholics more believable, and moral, if the church would really admit fully to the horrific wrongs so many priests have done, apologize, and commit some serious resources to helping the victims recover from the horrific, sick, wrongs perpetrated upon them. To most non-catholics, it certainly appears that catholics are posturing hypocrites who make excuses for child molesters. Catholics, especially catholic priests, have far too little guilt. Isn't it nice how you can make yourselves feel superior by pretending the myth about "catholic guilt" is true?

  4. Ben Trovato says:

    Willy, perhaps I write from experience and knowledge of a large number of Catholics, rather than a media-fuelled prejudice that portrays Catholics as 'posturing hypocrites who make excuses for child molesters.'

    I know no Catholics who make any excuses for the very small minority of priests who committed terrible crimes – doubly terrible given their calling and the trust people placed in them. However, it is a small minority, and to deduce from that that all priests, and indeed all Catholics, are guilty by association is a leap too far.