Mass is meant for the ashamed

Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

Do those sitting around you in Mass know your story? If a soul could flush like a face, does your soul redden each time you remember your shame? You may not even be the source of your shame. It may have slid over from a loved one. That the shame has become your own shows how deeply we live in each other.

What would others think, if they knew the details? Or is that something you would rather not discover? The great sorrow is that you are never more lost and alone than when you sit in shame.


Shame is not of God. How can it be, when it assaults you, denies the very goodness God created when you were made? Shame is what isolates us, separates us from others. How can shame be an instrument of God, whose purpose is ever to love and to gather?

Shame is not of God. How can it be, when it assaults you, denies the very goodness God created when you were made?

If seduction is the word we use for losing our way, for failing to remember what really matters, it is only the prick of the sin. The death-dealing poison is the shame that follows. That is when thoughts enter our heads about everyone judging us, about how we deserve their condemnation. We tell ourselves that if we have done something bad it can only be because we are bad. It is shame that separates us from the love of the Lord and of others.

Shame settles on the soul like a moody mist. It does not allow us to see clearly. We begin to tell ourselves that we have always been a loser, a bad person, and that there is no reason to hope for change.

Mass is meant for the shamed. The shepherd calls you to come in. Do not be ashamed. Jesus celebrated Eucharist with Judas. It was shame that took Judas from the light of the table into the darkness.

The Eucharist begins with a confession of our sins. This is our great act of defiance against shame. We have committed sins; we have failed ourselves and God; but we are here because God’s mercy is stronger than shame. Shame would have us stay away, stay apart. Confessing our sinfulness immediately identifies who we are before the face of God. We are the contrite, not the contemptible.

The Eucharist begins with a confession of our sins. This is our great act of defiance against shame.

There is a reason we say “The Lord be with you” as we begin the Eucharist, as we hear the Gospel, as we enter into the great prayer of thanksgiving and as we take our leave. The Eucharist is the original A.A. meeting. We need to encourage each other, remind each other that we are not alone, that our savior has called us together. May the hidden one in our midst be our strength!

Just before we are fed with the bread of life, we confess to the Lamb of God that we have sinned; we confess to the Lamb of God that shame has isolated us; and then we ask the Lamb of God to give what he alone can, the peace that comes when shame no longer separates us from God, from the one who always loves us, who always gathers.

When we are commanded to raise our eyes and to look upon Christ in his eucharistic flesh, we identify him as the Lamb whose blood was shed to wash away sin and shame. This sacrificial Lamb is the one who will feed us.

Behold the Lamb of God,
Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

And then we pronounce the most audacious act of hope. We recall that the same God who created us from nothing by nothing more than a sovereign word can by speaking the saving word recreate us as though sin and shame never were.

Lord, I am not worthy
That you should enter under my roof,
But only say the word
And my soul shall be healed.

Readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-10

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
John Chuchman
2 months ago

And clerics wish to keep us in shame, blaming us for Jesus’ death,
feeling unworthy unless we pay, pray, obey.
We ARE worthy; Stop telling us we are not.

Lynn CSJ
1 month 3 weeks ago

Some clerics, yes; too many? Of course, even 1 trying to keep us in shame is too many. But you read that in this essay, from this cleric?

Christine Corrigan
1 month 3 weeks ago

Yesterday, at the Vigil Mass during which I serve as Lector, I had the honor of proclaiming, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost.” (1 Tim 1:15). I don’t think so much of the shame part, but more of the collective—St Paul sinned, I sin, all of us here sin. And yet we are all asked to serve. I know I am forgiven daily for my sins and it is my hope and prayer, in a twinned parish experiencing a dearth of Liturgical Ministers that those in my congregation will view that proclamation, that they can serve, too. As my previous pastor used to say, “None of us are worthy! Get over it and serve.”

Thomaspj Poovathinkal
1 month 3 weeks ago

Always go BY God's Word.

Mere Psychological spirituality, in whatever form, we need to be careful.

Michael Bindner
1 month 3 weeks ago

Shame is Blame's ugly brother

Christopher Lochner
1 month 2 weeks ago

But....shame is a good concept. It forces an individual to examine their failings and, hopefully, to change. It forces a real world feeling and not a psychobabble approach. We've all heard the lament as to few people having shame. Obviously, it's much more convenient to do whatever, ask for forgiveness then move on. Sorta like a child who continues to steal from the cookie jar. "Have you no shame?" "Nahh, I always say I'm sorry and Mom forgives me." " Good con little dude!" I've known people who do the most appalling things and have no shame. I knew someone once who always sued anyone and everyone. I asked if this bothered him, the bearing false witness for profit. Response was, "If God didn't want it He wouldn't allow it." Guy had no shame.

Teresita Bardelli
1 month 2 weeks ago

The clickbait for this article [Christians cannot disdain the world. We must work to change it] hardly represents its content.

[Sign up to receive the Word, a weekly newsletter featuring current scripture reflections and material from our archives.]


The latest from america

What were the results of the Amazon synod?
Luke Hansen, S.J.November 11, 2019
The Rev. James Martin, S.J., leads listeners through an Examen prayer with a reflection on the courage of Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
James Martin, S.J.November 11, 2019
Mr. Byrne, best known as the dynamic frontman of the 1980s art-rock outfit Talking Heads, is a kind of besuited Renaissance man.
Ryan Di CorpoNovember 09, 2019
Peter Simpson, TL Thompson, Emily David and Becca Blackwell in ‘Is This a Room’ (photo: Carol Rosegg).
The play is a verbatim reenactment of the F.B.I.’s hour-long interrogation of the Georgia intelligence contractor who was arrested for leaking classified documents.
Rob Weinert-KendtNovember 08, 2019