There are some people, including Catholics, who want to excuse most, if not all sins. They say that heredity is to blame, or the environment, or psychological factors, or something else. Still others maintain that a feeling of sinfulness is really a sort of guilt complex, a hang-up. They put one in mind of the man who felt he had a guilt complex and consulted a psychiatrist. After spending a long time in many visits with the man, the honest psychiatrist said to him, “You don’t have a guilt complex, you are guilty!”
Without doubt, it is true that heredity and environment have influence on us, and a real psychological problem is no laughing matter. But we must remember that the mark of maturity is to accept responsibility for our free actions, not to seek excuses for our mistakes; and that a spiritually healthy person is honest with himself before God, while to deceive oneself habitually and to live in a make-believe world of self-righteousness is to border on mental as well as spiritual illness.
The Pharisee we hear about today certainly had no guilt complex; in a sense you might say that he had an innocence complex. Rather than being straightforward and honest, he expounded a catalogue of shallow virtues to cover over the guilt of his deep pride. In contrast the tax collector acted grown up: no excuses, no double talk, just the plain truth about himself as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.
Now, of course we shouldn’t pretend to have sins of which we are not guilty, nor should we exaggerate our real sins. But with complete honesty we should admit our sins, and without fear we should turn to Our Lord for mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, for after all Jesus came to call sinners.