Guilt, Guilt-Trips, and Scrupulosity

"Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me." —Psalm 51:4

Everyone has felt guilty many times. We have seen guilt lead us to repentance and life. We have also seen guilt lead to self-hatred and despair. Because many people have seen guilt become destructive, they have decided to be in denial of guilt, and they vigilantly warn everyone not to put anyone on a guilt trip, except for politically correct things. However, denying guilt becomes a problem because we are sinned against and know that others are guilty. Reality denies our denial. Therefore, most people in our "culture of death" believe in guilt in very restricted circumstances for other people. However, for themselves they try to disconnect their consciences and thereby stop the production of guilt. This is something like artificial contraception and sterilization by which natural processes are disconnected. Even though this prevents people from feeling bad, it also prevents them from feeling right. "One sees in them men without conscience, without loyalty, without affection, without pity" (Rm 1:31). Often, stifled guilt eventually erupts in self-destruction, as in Judas Iscariot's suicide. If we go on a sin-trip, we must go on a guilt-trip or we will likely go on a hell-trip.

Because subduing our consciences or deceiving ourselves about our guilt is potentially self-destructive and damning, it is obvious that we need to admit our guilt and take it to the Lord. The Lord has promised to take away our guilt (Zec 3:5), thoroughly wash it away (Ps 51:4), and transport guilt in a leaden covered container to the appropriate disposal site for toxic waste (see Zec 5:6ff).

We must distinguish between genuine guilt and false guilt. Genuine guilt means we have actually sinned and have not yet repented. If we have genuine guilt, we must take a short, immediate guilt trip to Jesus and repentance. We should go to Confession, make reparation for our sins, and ask others to pray for us to be healed.

False guilt may be caused by lack of knowledge and faith. A scrupulous conscience will produce false guilt (see 1 Jn 3:20). However, we can check scrupulosity by knowing that we are forgiven all our sins in Confession. This happens, not because we remember and articulate our sins perfectly, but because Jesus shed his blood for us on Calvary. The Church teaches: "When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1456). Therefore, scrupulous persons should not repeat in Confession sins which they have previously confessed. They should not doubt they are forgiven. Rather, they should rejoice with God, the angels, and saints in being forgiven (Lk 15:7, 10).

Moreover, we can correct a scrupulous conscience and thereby stop it from producing false guilt by growing in faith and by receiving healing of the causes of scrupulosity. If we truly believe what God the Father has revealed about Himself through Jesus and in the Spirit, we know that God, the just Judge, is also God of mercy and God Who is Love (1 Jn 4:16). By faith in God's mercy and love, we will let the Lord heal our warped consciences.

In summary,

  • don't live in denial of guilt.
  • don't disconnect your conscience.
  • go on a short guilt trip to Jesus and repentance immediately after you sin.
  • don't go on a false guilt trip.
  • live a holy, healed, faith-filled life and be freed from guilt.


Nihil obstat: Reverend Ralph J. Lawrence, July 8, 1997
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, July 21, 1997