The Importance of Contrition

Friends in Christ, today in the gospel we see this proud Pharisee, who is compared with the contrite publican. The publican is sorry for his sins: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
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During the season of Lent, we are given a number of gospel readings on this theme, in order to lead us also, to contrition for our sins. Yesterday we had a lot of confessions, today we have confessions again until noon, as part of this Day of Mercy. One of the requirements to make a good confession, is that the penitent have ‘contrition.’ He must be sorry for his sins.
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We could perhaps think of St. Peter – remember how he denied Christ? ‘I never knew the man,’ he said. And then he wept bitter tears. Were his tears contrition? Not necessarily. Contrition is on the inside, and may or may not show on the outside.
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Is Peter’s contrition perhaps because he feels ashamed, that he was so foolish as to deny Christ? no. People sometimes say they are ashamed that they committed some sin; this is understandable, but this is not contrition.
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Father Benedict Bauer says, ‘Contrition is sorrow for the sin that was committed, together with a decision not to do it again.’
Sin is a rebellion against the Good God. Contrition fills the Will with sorrow for revolting against God and treating him so badly, who loves us. We regret that we have done this to our Friend.
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Contrition need not be a feeling, or involve tears – it is rather, a genuine change in disposition. The Will, which previously held onto something evil, now casts the sin away and hates the sin. It wishes that the evil would be undone. Therefore, contrition includes the determination to turn away from sin.
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Sorrow is essential for the reception of Confession, without it, there is no forgiveness of sin. Some people who go to frequent confession find that they are not improving or changing their life. Of course this is human nature, we often fall into the same traps. But we should also ask, ‘am I really being contrite, am I really determined to change when I confess?
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Mother Church speaks of two types of Contrition: Perfect Contrition and Imperfect Contrition. Perfect Contrition is sorrow for sin out of love of God, the way that we would be sorry that we hurt someone we love. Imperfect Contrition is sorrow because of fear of hell or other horrors of the sin. (It still must contain a purpose of amendment)
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We have an Act of Contrition that we often use here at St. John’s, it is in the confessionals and on our guides, although you are free to use any one that you like. But in the one that we use here, Perfect and Imperfect contrition are in the prayer.
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We say, ‘Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell – there, that is ‘imperfect contrition’ – sorrow out of fear of losing God.
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then we go on:
I detest my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, ‘but MOST OF ALL, because they offend Thee my God, who art all good, and deserving of all my love’ – that is perfect contrition –
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Making firm and deliberate acts of contrition can really help us to change our life.

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