Pope Francis on sin, the virtue of feeling shame, and confession

Pope Francis continues to talk about sin and confession.

I have no idea if Francis’ little fervorini are going to wind up published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, but they have some real meat.  He is speaking more or less “a braccio“, off-the-cuff, but you can tell that he has some game.

One of the reasons why I like Francis’ preaching is that he is concrete.  In some ways he is more concrete than Benedict was.   I also like the fact that Francis is willing to reveal unpolished moments.

From the site of Vatican Radio we find a partial account (rather than a full text) of Pope Francis’ daily fervorino.

Commenting on the First Letter of St. John, which states ” God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all,” Francis Pope pointed out that “we all have darkness in our lives,” moments “where everything, even our consciousness, is in the dark”, but this – he pointed out – does not mean we walk in darkness:

“Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us‘. [Watch this…] Look to your sins, to our sins, we are all sinners, all of us … This is the starting point. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful, He is so just He forgives us our sins, cleansing us from all unrighteousness…The Lord who is so good, so faithful, so just that He forgives.”

When the Lord forgives us, He does justice” – continued the Pope – first to himself, “because He came to save and forgive“, [“Save”?  It is almost as if Francis believes in propitiation!]welcoming us with the tenderness of a Father for his children: “The Lord is tender towards those who fear, [“Fear”?  It is almost as if Francis believes in reverence.] to those who come to Him “and with tenderness,” He always understand us”. He wants to gift us the peace that only He gives. ” [Here we go!  Sacrament of Penance…] “This is what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation” even though “many times we think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaner” to clean the dirt from our clothes:

“But Jesus in the confessional is not a dry cleaner: it is an encounter with Jesus, but with this Jesus who waits for us, who waits for us just as we are. “But, Lord, look … this is how I am”, we are often ashamed to tell the truth: ‘I did this, I thought this’. But shame [It: vergogna] is a true Christian virtue, [“Shame”?  The readers of the Fishwrap aren’t going to like this.] and even human … the ability to be ashamed: [Here is one of those moments I mentioned at the top…] I do not know if there is a similar saying in Italian, but in our country to those who are never ashamed are called “sin vergüenza’: this means ‘the unashamed ‘, because they are people who do not have the ability to be ashamed and to be ashamed is a virtue of the humble, of the man and the woman who are humble. ”

Pope Francis continued: “ we must have trust, because when we sin we have an advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” And He “supports us before the Father” and defends us in front of our weaknesses. But you need to stand in front of the Lord “with our truth of sinners”, “with confidence, even with joy, without masquerading… We must never masquerade before God.And shame is a virtue: “blessed shame.” “This is the virtue that Jesus asks of us: humility and meekness”.

“Humility and meekness are like the frame of a Christian life. A Christian must always be so, humble and meek. And Jesus waits for us to forgive us. We can ask Him a question: Is going to confession like to a torture session? [Excellent.  I have often remarked that the confession is not The Rack.] No! It is going to praise God, because I, a sinner , have been saved by Him. And is He waiting for me to beat me? No, with tenderness to forgive me. And if tomorrow I do the same? Go again, and go and go and go …. He always waits for us. This tenderness of the Lord, this humility, this meekness …. ”

This confidence, concluded Pope Francis “gives us room to breathe.” “The Lord give us this grace, the courage to always go to Him with the truth, because the truth is light and not the darkness of half-truths or lies before God. It give us this grace! So be it. “

I am please, dear readers, to report that Pope Francis wants you to examine your consciences, to feel shame for your sins, and then to …



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ThomasL says:

    Beautifully inspiring. I once had a vision that if I were ever a priest this is pretty much the exact message I would preach in my first homily. It’s such a counter-cultural vision for our time, but so very needed. Properly ordered shame, is truly a great virtue. Thank you Papa Francesco.

  2. Darren says:

    I love that! And I am going to share with others…

    I love Pope Francis’ preaching… I do hope all of these end up being published. Oh those Fishwrappers are squirming… the tambourines are being prepared to rise against the Holy Father!

    Pray for the Holy Father, pray pray pray!

  3. markomalley says:

    His short daily homilies are quite a blessing. I am trying to archive them here, pending them being collected on a more official location:


  4. pseudomodo says:

    So, is ‘shame a true Christian virtue”? St. Thomas Aquinas might dispute this.

    “On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Ethic. ii, 7; iv, 9) that shamefacedness is not a virtue.

    I answer that, Virtue is taken in two ways, in a strict sense and in a broad sense. Taken strictly virtue is a perfection, as stated in Phys. vii, 17,18. Wherefore anything that is inconsistent with perfection, though it be good, falls short of the notion of virtue. Now shamefacedness is inconsistent with perfection, because it is the fear of something base, namely of that which is disgraceful. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii, 15) that “shamefacedness is fear of a base action.” Now just as hope is about a possible and difficult good, so is fear about a possible and arduous evil, as stated above (I-II, 40, 1; I-II, 41, 2; I-II, 42, 3), when we were treating of the passions. But one who is perfect as to a virtuous habit, does not apprehend that which would be disgraceful and base to do, as being possible and arduous, that is to say difficult for him to avoid; nor does he actually do anything base, so as to be in fear of disgrace. Therefore shamefacedness, properly speaking, is not a virtue, since it falls short of the perfection of virtue.

    Taken, however, in a broad sense virtue denotes whatever is good and praiseworthy in human acts or passions; and in this way shamefacedness is sometimes called a virtue, since it is a praiseworthy passion. ”

    Francis may be taking this in the very broadest sense. [I don’t think “very broadest” sense works, since “broadest” is already superlative. Francis is using the word virtue in a broad sense, as Aquinas points out. ]


  5. Went to Confession yesterday before Divine Liturgy :)

  6. Mary Jane says:

    Went to confession yesterday!

  7. oxfordbod says:

    I think there’s a difference beteween the english words “shame” and “guilt”. [Of course there is a difference. Francis, however, said “shame”.] I don’t know if there’s somthing similar. As I understand it, “guilt” propels us to do better, towards the confessional, towards God, but “shame” is oppressive, drives us towards dispair and towards Hell.

    [Let us not try to weasel out of what Francis said. He used the Italian word “vergogna… shame, embarrassment”.]

  8. ACS67 says:

    I too like Pope Francis’s homilies. I have been struggling with the Church, with being Catholic. But Pope Francis is slowly winning me over. He has convinced me to remain a Catholic and to take part in the unfolding of this “Love Story” that he speaks about.

    I went to confession last week after being away from the Church for awhile. I am glad I went. The priest was great and very understanding.

  9. Indulgentiam says:

    “sin vergüenza’. That’s how it’s said in Spanish, Castilian Spanish, too. Heard that more than a few times growing up. Most proponents of modern psychology tend to see a healthy sense of shame as “oppressive”. In reality however removing this healthy boundary causes confussion in a child. And thus they are taught to silence their conscience. I was taught that a healthy sense of shame is what kept one from embarrassing their famalies good name. A famalies name, in my culture, is something that others who have come before you have struggled to build. When one contributes to its height one is respected. When one, in any way, causes the good name to deminish, well then one earns the famalies displeasure and the title “sin vergüenza” till such time one remedied the situation. I do love the way my papas eyes light up when he says “una mujer con DIOS, de su casa y respetada. Muy buena hija” translation: a God fearing woman, attentive to her home and respected. A very good daughter. Yep, keeps me walken the straight and narrow. A healthy sense of shame, to my mind, is a built in mechanism of “do good and avoid evil.”
    LOVE Confession right before Mass. God bless our Parish Priest!

  10. JKnott says:

    What a beautiful talk by the Holy Father. It would be good to see it as a permanent spot on all the diocesan websites for the Year of Faith because it does speak to the heart.

    @Oxfordbod on your comment: “…“guilt” propels us to do better, towards the confessional, towards God, but “shame” is oppressive, drives us towards dispair and towards Hell.”

    I have a Lutheran neighbor friend who is in the habit of saying that she feels guilty about things that are really not sins. For example, many years ago she was in church on Easter singing Alleluia in the choir when police came into the church and told her that her mother died of a heart attack. Since that time, she continually speaks of having guilt for not being at home with her mother when she died and she pretty much has maintained a distance from Christ, while believing in a God. On the other hand she believes that Dr Kevorkian was right and isn’t too moved over abortion, though she knows it is wrong. We have had some friendly conversations on guilt for sin.

    I think the Pope is correct in using the word shame. It seems to me that shame comes about from knowing that something offends God or is wrong and having the humility to admit it, know the guilt of it and hopefully move on to forgiveness and amendment.
    There are serial killers who know they are guilty but have no shame.

    So in Catholic terms, could shame be somewhat related to compunction? Fr Z can answer that one. Just a thought.

  11. OrthodoxChick says:

    Papa Francesco plays whack-a-mole with those who think they’re too good to experience shame or actually sin. Fantastic!!

  12. marylise says:

    There is a name for people who never experience shame or guilt. They are called psychopaths.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    I was going to post what Pseudomodo posted. There is a broad sense in which shame can be useful as a kick-starter to the conscience. In this sense, even though not a virtue it can be an aid in the development of virtue.

    On the other hand, however, it says in Hebrews 12: 1 – 2:

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

    The notion of honor and shame are Semitic terms. In fact, the Beatitudes are incorrectly translated, often. The starting word of each Beatitude, markarios, which is often translated as blessed, is closer, linguistically, to the Semitic concepts of honor and shame. The person who is poor in spirit is more honorable in the sight of God and men that someone who is self-centered and greedy. In fact, such behavior was seen to bring shame upon the person and reflect badly on the tribe or clan. In the Old Testament, the two concepts of honor and shame were related to how much the actions of a person increased or decreased the standing of the tribe. You can see echoes of this when St. Paul says, in 1 Cor. 12:26:

    “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

    So, shame, properly speaking, is useful in informing a person that they have done something that has hurt not only themselves and their standing within the tribe, but actually hurt the tribe, as well. In this sense, the shame of one is the shame of all.

    In the post-Resurrection era, these terms have tended to become inverted in a sense, so that honor and shame are no longer a property belonging to the group, but a property belonging to the individual standing before the group. In more modern times, especially after the Protestant Reformation, when individual judgment became the center of the moral life, one became honorable in oneself or shameful within oneself and the group acted to reinforce the individual judgment. The notion of the debtor’s prison, where a family member must pay the fine, became replaced with the notion of individual responsibility.

    In Spain, for instance, the notion of personal honor, especially as it related to family honor, became something to be maintained regardless of the moral implications. This is one reason why, St. Teresa of Avila in, The Way of Perfection is so adamant that her nuns disregard the notion of honor – it can cloud the sense of what is God’s will.

    In the sense in which Pope Francis is talking, he is primarily speaking about shame being a barrier to the expression of a painful truth – that one has sinned. In this use, being ashamed can hamper a realization of one’s state before God and the motivation to act to change it. However, there is a subtle sense in which he uses the word, “shame,” in two different ways in his talk and he changes from one sense to the other without cluing the audience sufficiently.

    Being ashamed to approach God is not a virtue, it is a hindrance. This, Pope Francis says, clearly, when he says, “But, Lord, look … this is how I am”, we are often ashamed to tell the truth: ‘I did this, I thought this’.” He immediately uses the same word, however, which he has just identified as being a deficit with, suddenly, being a virtue, without explaining that he has changed the context. Shame is not a virtue in the context of man standing before God. One may talk of the shame borne of fear. Fear is often caused by a sort of turning inward. That a man’s, “Face may not bush with shame,” as the Psalmist says, is an indication that one is not right before God in a sense of fear when a man realizes how far he is from God.

    A change occurs when Pope Francis speaks of the virtue of shame immediately after because Pope Francis, in his second use of shame has shifted to the meaning of the word shame as it relates to humility. In this use, he really doesn’t mean shame, per se. What he means, technically, is the conative aspect of humility. Humility which is felt in the soul, the idea of lowliness, which the Blessed Virgin spoke of in the Magnificat, is the sense of shame that everyone ought to have and is an adjunct to the virtue of humility.

    Thus, what Pope Francis is doing is talking about two different ways in which the sense of shame can manifest itself: as the shame which is an adjunct of pride and the shame that is an adjunct of humility. Neither manifestation of shame is, strictly speaking a virtue or a vice, but, rather a manifestation of the virtue or the vice. The shame of pride switches to the shame of humility when, despite how much we feel we will lose our personal standing, we overcome ourselves and confess our sins. Shame associated with pride hopes that no one finds out who we really are; the shame associated with humility hopes that in finding out who we are, they may be lead beyond us to the Creator.

    Humility is a virtue and in Heaven there will be no shame because everyone will see each other in naked truth. It is the restoration of the sense of truth that makes a man pass from pride to humility. This is how shame can be, in one case, a vice, and in another case, as virtue. Shame without truth is always bad; shame with truth is always good. In the end, at death, shame will have served its purpose in showing us our relation to Truth – and then, it vanishes in Heaven or becomes a constant in Hell. There is no shame in Heaven and nothing but shame in Hell. Shame is a vehicle of the imperfect. We are all imperfect, but some will deny it in their pride, while other will embrace it in their humility.

    In the end, for the virtuous, shame is transformed into honor and glory, as St.Catherine of Siena says,

    “Virtue leads to everlasting life, where we possess life without death, health without sickness, riches without poverty, honor without shame, dominion without slavery.”

    The Chicken

  14. Andrew says:

    The Spanish “sinvergüenza” (used combined as a noun) goes beyond the meaning of “no shame”. In popular speech it is offensive. It kind of translates to our “low life” when you say that he or she or they are a sinvergüenza.

  15. Fr AJ says:

    Thank you for putting all of the homilies of Pope Francis together, great to have an easy to access resource like that!

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if boring, namby-pamby liberal priests would just read Pope Francis’ sermons like this one from the pulpit? Yesterday’s sermon was about the need for Catholics to be nice.

    Ugh. No comparison…

  17. Supertradmum says:

    Clarification, the parish here where I was visiting witnessed the sermon on “nice”.

  18. Giuseppe says:

    I always viewed shame as a blush: that sudden bodily feeling of embarrassment over doing something wrong. From that, I’d think through what I did wrong and then feel the guilt. Shame preceeds guilt. Guilt, then, can exacerbate the bodily feeling of shame. The only treatment is apology, atonement, and forgiveness. And God does it particularly well.

    Only sociopaths and malignant narcissists feel no shame or guilt.

    Love Papa F’s little sermons!

  19. KevinSymonds says:

    I am curious to know how the so-called “Westians” receive this mention of “shame.”

  20. KevinSymonds says:

    Also, Fr. Z., it appears as though the Holy Father himself is the reason why his fervorini are not being published in their entirety:


    Una novità che balza all’occhio è la celebrazione della messa mattutina nella cappella dentro santa Marta. A tale proposito padre Lombardi ha detto che il Papa non desidera che le sue omelie siano pubblicate. Vuole poter conservare la sua spontaneità di parola e di riflessione senza dover pensare che quanto dice debba essere stampato.

  21. Imrahil says:

    Thanks to the dear @pseudomodo and the dear @Chicken who (plural that is) expressed in elaborate words what I felt in rather less expressible ones…

    I sometimes Confessed as a sin what could be comprised under the term “be (too much) ashamed of myself”. I also considered it largely a moral duty to at least hide such feelings (for some reason or other, which to explain would go too far), which I rather succeeded better (I guess), though with exceptions.

  22. Imrahil says:

    Nevertheless, it is quite true that we are of course not to be what is called in (I believe English and) German and Spanish “shameless people”.

  23. pseudomodo says:

    I suppose the bottom line that my post is trying to express is the creeping doctinal theology that sometimes wakes you up in the pew! If this was my priest who said that shame is a christian virtue, I would have numbered off all the cardinal and theological virtues and asked him where he got this information from.

    This reminds me of years ago where visiting priests would delight in saying that the “Church is a Sacrament”. My response was often, “OH, are there EIGHT NOW?!” [You would then suppress the Fathers of the Church who wrote and spoke of things like the season of Lent as a “sacrament”.]

  24. Matt R says:

    God is not a torturer.

  25. StWinefride says:

    pseudomodo says: This reminds me of years ago where visiting priests would delight in saying that the “Church is a Sacrament”. My response was often, “OH, are there EIGHT NOW?!”

    I remember coming across that at the beginning of my studies and being equally baffled! Here’s the explanation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    774. The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ Himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ (St Augustine). The saving work of His holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s Sacraments. The seven Sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the Head throughout the Church which is the Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “Sacrament”.

    Continued in para. 775 and 776

  26. Andrew says:


    Apocalypsis Joannis tot habet sacramenta, quot verba. Parum dixi pro merito voluminis. Laus omnis inferior est: in verbis singulis multiplices latent intelligentiae. (S. Hieronymus, Ep. LIII)

    The Apocalypse of John contains as many (sacraments)/ mysteries, as words. I said too little in that book’s merit. All praise is insufficient: in every word there are hidden meanings. (S. Jerome, letter 53)

  27. CharlesG says:

    No better example of the shamelessness in modern society than the topless ladies who recently attacked poor Archbishop Leonard of Brussels. Or perhaps the “V_____ Monologues” so widely performed on “Catholic” campuses in the US. Or the rampant public promiscuity of “gay pride parades”, etc.

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  30. pseudomodo says:

    Agreed Fr.Z and Andrew and StWinefride. I do not intend to critisize the Fathers at all.

    In it’s religious and specifically Christian context, a sacrament is a sacred or holy thing. The
    Fathers of the Church applied it to the Christian religion as a whole, as well as to specific truths
    or doctrines and also to liturgical ceremonies.

    A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Although the Church guards
    and proclaims the sacraments, it has no power to institute, or create them. Only God can endow
    simple signs with the power to give grace and this he did as the God-man Jesus Christ.
    Sacraments are not just theoretical symbols but also practical symbols in that they not only
    indicate inner sanctification but also effect, or give inner sanctification. Therefore the sacraments
    signify the graces they actually give.

    I attended a lecture years ago at a local seminary where an old nun stood up and proceeded to lecture the invited guest lecturer on the ‘fact’ that in the early church there were a lot more sacraments than there were now and that there were more than seven but the Church finally settled on seven!!!

    Ironically and unfortunately (for her) the guest lecturer was none other than Cardinal Arinze.

  31. gary cifra says:

    Senza Vergogna: Without shame
    Son-oF-a-gun!: Used as a Noun; You Son-of-a-gun!
    SenaVergogna : Sicilian Dialect. (combined word); Disparaging term, but not derogatory.

    Thought all the Italians would be chiming in on this one….guess not!

    One who: shames, embarrasses, humiliates, slights, spites, taunts, torments, provokes Another.
    As kids we heard this “term of endearment”…ahem, more than a few times growing up:
    Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles “affectionately” referred to The-mischievous-kid as a: “Senavergogna.”

    Takes on a different ‘ Texture and Flavor ‘ when one is no longer 5 years old, but an adult!

    Scenario: You Best-friend and his fiancé (who is a cousin of yours) do not invite you to their wedding because they harbor an Unwarranted grudge. However they send an invitation to your parents who live in the same household….wait…this is where the Plot Thickens…not out of Respect for your parents, but to SNUB you…”Without shame” on their part. Prior to that:
    the “Senavergognas” ignored you at mass never to tell you they were Engaged, but show the ring to others attending the Same mass. What Italian style!

    Here is where the choir chimes in:
    The whole family responds in “Una Voce”… SENAVERGOGNA!
    Son-of-a guns!
    Shameless! How could they? Why would they?

    * The mortally wounded hero: exits Stage-Left while holding his bleeding heart in his hand.
    This is True and Current Italian Drama at its best; please pray that I may find consolation and healing during this difficult affliction.

  32. There is the Italian word: svergognato.

  33. OrthodoxChick says:

    gary cifra,

    I’m half Italian. I would have chimed in, but the Italian words that I know are the really naughty ones – da Napoli, non da Sicilia.

  34. gary cifra says:

    Thanks for the reply and contributing to the expanded usage of the expression, makes me feel more connected to the actual people and the texture of the dialects. I was in fact going to reference out the Napolitan translation with friends as my Sicilian intuition kicked in and I was certain to find yet another Flavor and Texture of the expression there.

    I forgot however to clench my diagnosis in the last post;
    thank you for the opportunity to fine-tune my entry.

    Senzavergogna= No shame->No sorrow->No remorse-= No Repentance !
    Therefore Evil does not stop>>> it perpetuates and picks up momentum>>>
    waiting to raise it Ugly head yet again!

    Viva il buon gente Itlaiano e il buon giudizio Itlaiano!

  35. gary cifra says:

    I interposed your handle with The Masked Chicken, sorry about that.
    Also to qualify the previous statement as well:
    Viva la buona razza Italiana e il buono giudizio Itlaiano!
    e pace a coloro di buona volontà.

  36. OrthodoxChick says:

    gary cifra,

    I found myself watching the Diane Sawyers interview last night with Amanda Knox. Don’t know if you happened to see it, but the piece mentioned that the Italian people had largely been turned against Ms. Knox due to very unflattering media reports. Mx. Knox claims the info in many of those reports were false. At one point, there was a cut-away to media reaction outside of the courthouse when she was freed. Several people in the crowd, one women quite loudly and clearly, was heard exclaiming, “Senza Vergogna”! Ms. Knox also mentioned in the same interview that she was very aware that the people outside were literally calling her the devil. That seems to fit with how you defined the word above.

    I note that Fr. Z. knows of a slightly different word. Having studied American textbook Italian at one point in my youth, I recall that the language that I was being taught in school, and the one I heard in the Italian neighborhood of my grandparents at the time, sounded like 2 completely different languages! I also saw a re-run of a Bishop Sheen program on EWTN recently. Bishop Sheen remarked that the native people of France never seem to be able to understand an American who goes there and speaks French.

    I guess we have only to blame it on dialects?!

  37. gary cifra says:

    Whatever the Italian woman was “calling her” …. she was certainly calling her GUILTY!
    I suspect it was more of the Roman or Napolitan profile?
    The Sicilian character is a bit more subtle (ya-gotta-love-em)…it is Not so much Hurdled-Out against another (but that Certainly is a variation) as it is “Murmured in Bassa Voce” dalla camera alta on the rebound, to members of the court in canonical formula. One that imparts judgement:
    We know “Who is Who and What is What!”
    The Verdict is out!

    * Mallet strikes: Judge, Jury, Execution!

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