Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

How does your faith group view guilt?

The phenomenon of guilt is a universal human experience. It seems to be one of the ultimate basic traits of human nature, it exists in every culture and is recognized with its correlative term conscience, as a central fact of life. From the standpoint of theology, guilt is a willing and knowing violation of a persons relation to God. Such guilt generates an awareness of being personally responsible before God and others for the evil that one may have committed. Conditions for real, theological guilt include knowledge and freedom. We must remember the extent that knowledge is lacking or freedom is in some way impaired, guilt is lessened.

True guilt does not simply say that one feels guilty, but acknowledges that one is guilty. It is the experience of conscience making its judgment in the light of rationally evaluated circumstances. It recognizes that one has done wrong. What is important for us is that the guilty person knows he can repent, be forgiven, repair the damage one may have done, make restitution where necessary, regain peace of mind and continue to grow. As his followers, we know that we are still loved by God, and that we dont need to earn that love. Rather, we must respond to it.

The appropriate response to sin is repentance and the acceptance of Gods gift of forgiveness. We find it in the sacraments, and as Pope Benedict told us in his homily last Saturday in St. Patricks Cathedral in New York, it is "from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit". Here, the guilt which results from sin is washed away in the light and love that only He can give!