When is it too much?

Have you ever done something, and then in that immediate moment afterwards, realized you’d put your foot in your mouth, or you’d committed a social faux pas that, at least in your mind (if you’re lucky), brought a monster amount of negative attention your way?

Three weeks ago now, I went out to a local retreat house for Mass. It’s a more modern form of the Mass, and the community is smaller but very progressive. It’s a community I like being a part of because we share our faith, regardless of where that faith draws from in the Christian spectrum.

I hadn’t been there since my ordination, which was about five weeks. It felt good to be back, and I felt like I’d come home. I also was carrying a little bit of ego around now that I’d been ordained. Big mistake.

During the liturgy, as is the custom, I went up to the altar and took communion, then returned to my seat. Only to realize after I’d sat down that there were still two prayers that needed to be said before communion was actually taken. I went purple. I was so embarrassed! Beyond embarrassed. I was ashamed. It came crushing down on my like a mine shaft collapsing on me. At the end of Mass, I apologized to the community, explaining that I’d gone up to the altar with ego and had made a mistake that I was deeply regretful for. I admitted that I’d gone up with my ego rather than humility and that I needed to be reminded that with the vocation of priesthood there needs to be humility rather than hubris; I asked the community to pray that I would continue to be knocked off my chair in moments of ego. I went home. Likely everyone forgot about it by the end of Mass and just went on.

I’m still thinking about it, still cringing about it, all these weeks later.

Yesterday during a meeting, I made a comment which I realize wasn’t appropriate for the nature of the meeting. It wasn’t off colour, it was just not appropriate. It was personal rather than business.

I suspect that there are many of us who live with this kind of over-abundance of shame. The causes are multi-faceted. They can be trauma based, for example. In my case, I believe that choices in my life led me to experience situations which required me to be shamed to be compliant. Relationships, employment, even in prayer, these shame beliefs create natural outcomes that are catastrophic to our self image, and subsequent behaviors.

I also suspect that in the reality that many of us live with it, there are many ways of overcoming it. Consistently, when I re-live that moment at the retreat house in my mind, I remind myself that I’m likely the only one still thinking about it and not to worry. I’m making a point of going back to the community and continuing to celebrate Mass there. The first time back will be anxiety filled, and it will get easier every subsequent time.

There’s also the way it affects how we interact with others. One example is a person I keep meeting in my life. They are very outgoing, very friendly, and then out of the blue start questioning choices I’ve made. They’re not in line with their own ideas of what things should be. A part of me throws up the white flag, waves it, and wants to immediately concede that they’re right to avoid the conflict. What I’ve noticed is that lately, I’ve been trying to challenge that white flag waving part of myself, and stand up for what I think is right regardless of what someone might think. It’s a challenge because in a way, it pushes us to a place of potential conflict. Who likes conflict?

Conflict is necessary. The kind of conflict is an option.

Yesterday, in conversation with this person, I explained the choices that had been made would have outcomes, and those outcomes would provide learning experiences, and those experiences were valuable life lessons that needed to happen for the people in this situation. My role was merely in offering guidance to the individuals in question, and allowing the outcomes of their choices to occur.

When is it too much?

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