The Blessed Guilt

After four years of Jesuit education and another four years of living in community, I finally “arrived” when I moved into a teeny apartment in a bustling neighborhood in Boston. I was surprised last summer to find that five years had gone in my garden-level (read: mostly underground), two-room home with drop ceilings and weird paneling on the walls.

As it turns out, I haven’t needed anything else. And I’ve been happy here.

Last night I sailed in the door after a typically busy day and set about to start dinner. I looked at my mess in the kitchen and thought “I don’t even have that much stuff, but somehow it has all congregated on the kitchen counters”. And then I thought about all the other stuff in the cabinets and closets. Can I still say “I don’t have that much stuff”?

I had a professor once who said “I hope this generation has guilt about justice the same way mine had guilt about sex”. I can assure him, we do, or at least I do. I believe it is wrong to have more than I need, yet I look around and see a closet full of clothes and a nice car and books overflowing to every corner of the apartment, and I feel guilty.

I do not want to want these things. I want it to be easy to “give away all I have and follow me”, but if I were asked today could I? This is where my spirit lives right now, and may for a long time. I’m fighting off the onslaught of stuff – or trying to convince myself that I am not complicit in my own aggregation of things I don’t need. Part of my heart believes that it is immoral to have more than I need, but clearly there is part of me that is fine with it.

When I was an undergrad and went to the outskirts of Tijuana to build houses, I returned with the requisite culture shock and discomfort. After a few weeks of not knowing what to do in this culture, it occurred to me that I had to bloom where I was planted. I was born in a hospital in Hartford, not in a village in a third-world country, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

Here I am, in a culture that doesn’t satisfy my desire for justice and rightness (but could any culture do so?). I know I have to swim in it. I know I have no choice. But I have to have a choice, or rather I have to make a thousand choices every day, striking that balance of blooming where I’m planted and living a moral and just life.

I don’t mind guilt. Sometimes we should feel guilty – it’s a sign that we’re not doing it right. Maybe part of opting for the poor is feeling guilty about having more than them. Maybe the guilt is a blessing, a sign that I have not yet lost the itch for goodness, and that I haven’t missed my opportunity to be numbered among those who hunger and thirst for justice.

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5 Responses to The Blessed Guilt

  1. Christina Rogers says:

    “Maybe part of opting for the poor is feeling guilty about having more than them.” Yay JVC!!! This has been a huge part of my experience this year, and it’s come up in community discussions frequently. Even with our “simple” lifestyle, we have so much more than most of the people we’re working with, and it does make me feel incredibly guilty. Maybe I should also feel guilty that I’m currently stealing internet access from one of my neighbors?

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