There is an old saying that “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” And we know from Scripture and the lives of the saints that, by the grace of God, great sinners can become the holiest saints. But for some people who are striving for sainthood, their sinful past can bring up feelings of guilt and shame that make it difficult to embrace the love of God.
That was the case for a listener named Josephine, who recently called in to The Patrick Madrid Show. Josephine explained that she grew up Catholic, but didn’t care as much about her faith when she was younger.
Speaking of her youth, Josephine said, “I fornicated with my boyfriend, and back then I wasn’t set on whether I believed in abortion or a woman’s right to choose. I really didn’t give it much thought. But now that I’m older and understand, I actually feel guilty because if I had gotten pregnant at that time I probably would have had an abortion.”
“It’s just something that I struggle with inside, because I’m so pro-life now,” she told Patrick. “It’s a guilt, a heaviness on my heart, and I just don’t know if that would be a sin.”
Patrick started by explaining the anatomy of sin, which is the result of a free-will choice to do something that you know is contrary to God’s plan for you. He pointed out that if Josephine knew that abortion was taking a human life, breaking the 5th Commandment, and she decided to have an abortion anyway, then that would be a sin.
But, he told her, “You, in this case, did not do that. What you’re doing now is looking back and analyzing. Which is good. This is a very mature thing to do, to look back and reflect on what your attitudes were at the time. And it’s an act of honesty to say that if you had gotten pregnant then you would have had an abortion. But the key is, you didn’t have an abortion. So you didn’t actually commit a sin.”
“Now, you can grieve over the fact that you were young and stupid, or naive and misled, or any of the other things we all experience in one way or another when we are younger,” Patrick continued. “You can grieve over that fact, and you can be sad, and thank the Lord for bringing you close to him now. That’s different from feeling guilty over a sin. Because in this instance you didn’t commit a sin. So there’s nothing to feel guilty about.”
Patrick encouraged Josephine, and anyone struggling with shame, guilt, or feelings of remorse for their past life and sins to read The Confessions of St. Augustine.
“It’s like reading his diary, and he is very honest with God, with himself, and with the reader,” Patrick explained. “And he gives an analysis of how when he was 15 or 16 he fell into sin and wallowed in it until his early 30s.”
Despite the sins of his youth, after his conversion St. Augustine went on to become one of the greatest theologians the in the history of the Church. His writings, teachings, and example have brought countless people closer to the Lord many centuries after his death.
Patrick told listeners, “If you ever feel really weighed down by the remorse that you feel for your past sins, no matter how embarrassing they may be, read The Confessions. It may buck you up and it will show you that you’re in good company.”