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Local view: Guilt opens door to opportunities

Many folks think guilt is a bad thing, but not me. I often see guilt prompting us to become better versions of ourselves.

One spring afternoon at Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minn., where I lived with 84 university sophomores and juniors as their faculty resident, I was walking down the hall and about to raise my hand in greeting to a lanky young scholar who also was a record-breaking athlete. Seeing me, he immediately looked alarmed and said, “Whaaat? Whaaat?” Pause. He continued rapidly, “I’m going to class. I’m doing my homework. I’m working out with the team.” I waited. “OK, OK,” he said, and then admitted to a list of minor infractions and difficulties about which I had no clue or particular concern.

His guilt prompted an impromptu confession and a pledge of redirection in a more positive path. We religious folk call this “metanoia,” a conversion of mind, heart and attitude. I was not really a participant but simply there to provoke and witness a moment of grace.

Christian people celebrate Pentecost today, the 50th and final day of the Easter season. I expect to see that young man’s smiling face today as we pray with the psalmist, “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

We Catholics will sing a sequence before the gospel that points out what we hope the Spirit will do in our midst: “Heal our wounds, our strength renew; / On our dryness pour your dew; / Wash the stains of guilt away: / Bend the stubborn heart and will; / Melt the frozen, warm the chill; / Guide the steps that go astray.” We beg God on behalf of all the faithful that the Spirit, “In your sevenfold gift descend; / Give them virtue’s sure reward; / Give them your salvation, Lord; / Give them joys that never end.”

Sometimes, whether we are religious or not, we feel we might not be worthy of joy that never ends; but really, who deserves a gift? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. The giver decides; the one who receives the offer accepts in grace that which may be even better than one could ask, imagine or deserve. Religious folks think: Such is the reflected goodness of God.

So maybe here is where all of us freethinkers can consider the upside of guilt, which can wake us up to better possibilities and opportunities, calling us to refine our approach, preparing us for renewed life. Some of us need more prompting than others; sometimes we need a second or a third call.

The young athlete I mentioned is a case in point. In difficulty one more time, he came with two of his companions in distress to my apartment after 11 one night and saw the door open. It seemed to me that either the smell of pizza or personal difficulties bring college guys to talk to a priest at that hour. They came in and were about to sit when the lanky one pointed to a chair another student was about to occupy.

“Wait!” he commanded. “I always sit there.” That seemed odd, but we reshuffled and all sat down. He stretched out his legs, looked at us looking at him and said proudly to me, “Well, didn’t you say that no one has ever sat in this chair more often than me?”

“I did say that, Chaz,” I said, adding, “But, it

wasn’t a compliment.”

Chaz has been in the hot seat, both in my office and in my apartment, more often than most; it took him awhile, but all things seemed to work well for him in the end.

All of us, like him, can accept the call to renewed life in good grace and good humor. Religious folk consider such movement a response to the Spirit of Pentecost. The Apostle Paul reminds us in every community there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit; and there are varieties of services but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good, it states in I Corinthians.

The challenge before every person of good will is to use our gifts well, keeping our eyes on the prize.

The Rev. William C. Graham is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth who returns to St. Michael’s Parish in Lakeside as pastor Aug. 1. His newest book, “100 Days Closer to Christ: Prayerful Thoughts, Reflections and Provisional Essays,” was published by the Liturgical Press.