What’s a Christian virtue?

I’ve been meaning to post about what Lewis is reading–Yves Congar’s journal from the Council. Such is his love of gossip and the inside scoop that he’s reading about Vatican II from another angle now.

But excerpts and commentary will have to wait. Today I was surprised to find that Pope Francis finally said something to which I took objection. Usually I just retweet the links from Vatican Radio and hope that others, too, will be edified by the Holy Father’s daily homilies. Not this time. To be fair, it isn’t really what Pope Francis said that I found disheartening (not to say theologically dodgy); rather, it’s how the homily was headlined: ‘Shame is a true Christian virtue.’ Yikes!

So I read carefully the whole of the article about the homily and discovered that the virtue is verguenza, not strictly ‘shame’. I don’t know what the Italian words were that Pope Francis used, but I understand verguenza well enough to know that if that’s what the Pope had in mind, then something got lost in translation. ‘Shame’ doesn’t quite cover it, and carries with it a lot of baggage that is far from virtuous. What Pope Francis meant, as far as I gathered from the report, was that to realize that we’ve done wrong, and to feel ashamed (in the healthiest possible way) shows that we have a conscience that is in good working order.

Fair enough. That we squirm a bit over something we must bring to the confessional is probably a sign that it’s something we ought to confess. Probably. I think that we must be very, very careful about the connection between sin and shame. Our culture (whether US or UK) teaches us to be ashamed of ourselves for all sorts of things that aren’t sin, particularly when we have been the victims of sexual abuse. That sort of shame is certainly not a Christian virtue.

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