One of my eldest son’s texts for this year is Macbeth. I have just been covering it, with a multitude of others (a suitably penitential act for the beginning of Lent). What a Lenten theme that play has.
Good people doing bad things never works very well in the end; guilt will out. Shakespeare, crypto-Catholic or no, certainly understood what people were like with that rueful acceptance that crosses all times and linguistic divides and speaks to the human heart – we recognise the truth about ourselves no matter what historical guise it is dressed in.
Poor old Macbeth and his wife suffered the same way everyone suffered when there was no longer sacramental confession as part of new English Protestant Church.
There was nowhere to go with their burden of guilt, and it inevitably came back to haunt them – Banquo’s ghost just wouldn’t go away. His cries became more and more insistent, the same way that guilt unrelieved has a way of building up into an immense maelstrom inside us that has a capacity not only to disturb but to destroy us and those around us if we let it. Whoever named it the burden of guilt was completely correct; even the youngest child who goes to confession remarks “I always feel much better – kind of lighter – when I come out.”
And the truth is that just in saying out loud our litany of faults and sins, their pettiness and small-mindedness suddenly seems very obvious. Those grievances hugged in our inmost hearts, no matter how deeply they might cut, when held before Our Lord at the foot of the Cross, seem very small beans indeed. I read somewhere that secrecy (as opposed to privacy) is one of the Devil’s favourite tools, and I am sure it is true.
The fact is, we need to tell someone that we are not what we seem. We need to unburden ourselves of our dark secrets and the acts or thoughts or desires of which we are most ashamed so that we can go on ahead without carrying them with us.
We Catholics have the great blessing that we have recognition of this need built into our religion – other people have to pay to talk to therapists, but we can go to Confession as often as we like for free. With the added bonus of being forgiven also, and the opportunity to make up for our sins with acts of reparation, penance and prayer.
We need not only to fully appreciate but to use more often than we do the gift of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. We need to understand its vital place in our spiritual and religious lives. It is not something to be frightened of – though a feeling of discomfort as one waits is probably unavoidable! – but to be embraced as something of immense necessity and benefit to us, given to us by the same loving God who has ‘carved us in the palm of His hand’.