Fr. Dale Matson
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws on their heart, and upon their mind also will I write them; then saith he.” (Heb. 10:16).
Whether we say that our boundaries are hard wired or acquired through socialization, boundaries exist in adults in the form of an autonomous morality [the rules of conduct are internal](Kohlberg). In the case of the sociopath, the rules governing behavior never become internalized and must be externally imposed and enforced.
If one takes the ten commandments of Moses or the great commandment of Christ as a summation thereof, as the basic moral package, what is it that enforces compliance? Most would say it is the conscience of the individual. The conscience is the internal judge that uses guilt to punish individuals that do not live according to their own internal rules.
Freud argued that neurotic individuals were really the product of social rules that were oppressive and unrealistic. The cost to society of civilizing its children is neurosis. The irony of course is that the saints are able to live to a moral standard above that required by society. The highest percentage of healthy individuals, who make lasting contributions to society, are people who are living at Kohlberg’s stage six (highest) stage of moral development.
The reality is that boundaries/rules provide freedom. For example, we would not dare drive a car down the street if we didn’t have expectations that those who share the road would stop at red lights. Terrorists are a terrible threat because they seem to have no rules but what about the relaxation of moral behavior and even the call for the legalization of drug use, no-fault divorce and the killing of the unborn? If it is legal why do people feel guilty and should they feel that way?
Here is where the psychologist takes a different path than the priest. The psychologist as a secular scientist practitioner may claim that the individual suffers from false guilt. In reality they are not raising consciousness at all. They are enabling the individual to deny the reality of their guilt. Unfortunately denied guilt eventually can give rise to somatic maladies (why is there such a rise in autoimmune disorders?) and accidents.
The priest does not deny guilt. This is not to say that there are not occasions of false guilt. Satan is called the accuser. We can even suffer from an oversensitive conscience. “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20).
But on those occasions where we experience real guilt there is only one healthy response. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Guilt is a symptom of sin, with sin as the underlying illness. For those in the liturgical churches, there is the "Sacrament of Reconciliation". “When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of true contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces absolution.” (Book of Common Prayer, p.446).
Sin and its consequence guilt remain a reality in our time. Recent research indicates that one in five individuals is mentally ill.(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1331636/1-5-Americans-mentally-ill-joblessness-takes-toll.html) The psychoanalyst has not replaced the priest because he will not acknowledge the sin and guilt and cannot offer forgiveness on behalf of God. If you are troubled with guilt, there is a course of action that is the only remedy for guilt. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16).