The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Perfect Contrition

"The reception of the Sacrament of Penance is a divine precept [requirement] which concerns all who, after baptism, are guilty of mortal sin. It is of the strictest obligation, there being no other means by which they can be reconciled to God. An actual or implicit wish to confess, joined to perfect contrition, is necessary as a necessary means for those who cannot go to confession."

-Rev. Fr. F. X. Schouppe, A Course of Religious Instruction: Apologetic, Dogmatic, and Moral: For The Use Of Colleges And Schools, 1879, Imprimatur. 

 

Meant especially for these catacomb days, when many of us do not have an access to make a confession to a True Priest, it is a must for every soul to be aware of what other means the Mother Church provides to her faithful children who can not confess, in order to reconcile them to God, and restore the friendship, thus gaining the fruits of a confession. The source of the below writing is from Repertorium Oratoris Sacri, containing outlines of 600 sermons, for all the Sundays  & holidays of the ecclesiastical year, With the approbation of Bishop of Fort Wayne, Version 1878, Page 383, Chapter: 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

 

PERFECT CONTRITION

"And it came to pass that, as they went, they were cleansed." Lk. xvii, 14. The Gospel reminds us of the effects produced by perfect contrition. Before the lepers showed themselves to the priests, on their way, as they went, they were cleansed. These ten lepers are, according to the Holy Fathers, the figures of sinners. As they were cleansed before they showed themselves to the priest, so we are cleansed from spiritual leprosy by perfect contrition, before we show ourselves to the priest. O wonderful effect of perfect contrition! As it is of the utmost consequence to have a complete knowledge of perfect contrition, I have determined to make it the subject of our present reflection.

 

I. WHAT IS PERFECT CONTRITION?

We are under an indispensable obligation to love God above all things, and to manifest this love by observing his commandments. "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." John xiv, 21. Therefore by being attached to a created thing against his will, we refuse to him the due affections of our heart, and devote them to creatures, upon whom we set a higher value than upon him.

By perfect contrition this disorder is readjusted, the heart of the sinner loves God again above all things. Therefore, when God calls you to penance, he says to you what St. Remigius said to Chlodwig king of France, when he was to baptize him: "Burn what thou hast worshiped, and worship what thou hast burnt." If we desire the remission of our sins, it is most necessary to love above all things our Lord whom we have despised, and henceforth to despise the hatred, lust, vengeance, pride, etc., in which we have delighted before.

After this preliminary remark, we may without difficulty understand what is perfect contrition. It is the wilful detestation of our sin, because by it we offend God, whom we now love above all things, with the firm resolution to sin no more. We infer from this that perfect contrition is caused by both the love of God and the hatred of sin, which however are inseparable, as the beautiful rose and its shadow.

But we have yet somewhat more to urge on the nature of the love for God and of hatred of sin, that we may give you a clearer knowledge of what constitutes perfect contrition. The love required for a perfect contrition is not that love of tenderness which you perceive in your heart, when you fervently love a fellow-creature. The affections caused by this love are sometimes so strong, as to deprive a man of his peace of mind, and to disturb the balance of his reason. The love of God, although the love of tenderness for him is desirable also, is a far nobler love consisting in a profound reverence which prefers his friendship to all things, and is eager to forsake all earthly goods, rather than the friendship of God. The man of whom Nathan spoke to David, who had nothing but a little ewe-lamb, which had grown up in his house together with his children, eating of his bread, and drinking of his cup, and sleeping in his bosom, being unto him as a daughter (II Kings xii, 3), entertained the tenderest affections for this little creature. Suppose now that he had killed this little lamb to save a stranger from starvation, would his love for the lamb, or for the stranger, have been the more perfect? You say, his love for the stranger. Yet his love for the lamb was more tender. To save the life of his fellowman, he consented to have his lamb killed. This is the love I speak of, on which perfect contrition is founded; a love of reverence, of esteem, which although not as tender as our love for parents, friends, and other of our fellow-creatures, nevertheless determines our will to endure the loss of anything, in order to obtain the friendship and grace of God. From this we conclude that it is not so difficult to acquire a perfect contrition, as many seem to think.

As regards hatred of sin, which is necessarily connected with perfect contrition, you must know that it is not necessary to feel or perceive it, as you perceive hatred against a rattle-snake coming in your way. Hatred of sin is the act in which our will repents of sin, wishes that we had never committed it, and that we were able to destroy it, and is determined to undergo the greatest sufferings rather than to sin again; and all this, because sin is an offence against the divine bounty and majesty, not because we have to fear divine wrath. Although such contrition necessarily includes the resolution to amend our life, it is advisable to make this firm purpose explicitly. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa 3 p. q. 85, art. 6.

 

II. ON THE MEANS OF ACQUIRING PERFECT CONTRITION.

From what we have heard we infer that perfect contrition is not the work of divine grace only. This compunction will rise in the hearts of all who employ the proper means. These means are:

1. Prayer;

2. Meditation on the divine perfections;

3. Reflection on the ignominy of sin.

1. As prayer is the universal means of obtaining all graces whatsoever, so it is, no doubt, a sure means of obtaining the grace of perfect contrition; which, as supernatural, must originate from grace, according to Jeremias, who says: "Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted." Lam. v, 21. God has promised this grace, if we ask him for it: "When thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him; yet so, if thou seek him with all thy heart, and all the affections of thy soul." Deut. iv, 29.

2. As regards the meditation on the divine perfections, it is sufficient to select one at a time, because we find so great beauty and majesty in one of them, as to induce us to perfect charity. Select for instance his infinite beauty, and call to your mind that the beauty of all creatures, real and possible, is a beam flowing from this eternal Sun; that the angels are enraptured by this divine beauty, in the contemplation of which they find the same ineffable delight, as on the first day. Call to your mind that, if the evil spirits and condemned souls could behold this beauty only for a moment, they could not but love God. In like manner you may meditate on every other divine perfection, especially on his infinite beauty which induced him to create you, to regenerate you in the bosom of his Church; or on his infinite mercy inducing him to take the form of a servant, to become as one of us, and to die for us on the tree of malediction; to forgive us our sins, and to be our food in the Blessed Sacrament. Such and similar reflections will enkindle perfect charity and contrition in our hearts.

3. Besides, let us reflect on the great outrage we have committed by our sins against God. For the sake of our base passions, for sensual delights, we have forsaken divine friendship and grace. A horrible exchange!

 

III. SOLUTION OF SOME DOUBTS RESPECTING PERFECT CONTRITION.

Now that you have heard what is perfect contrition, and how it is elicited, I will go on to remove certain doubts which Christians often entertain with regard to perfect contrition.

1. You often feel some remaining inclination to sin, when you make an act of contrition, which makes you fear that your contrition is not such as it ought to be. I answer: This inclination is either voluntary, proceeding from your perverse will, or it is involuntary, proceeding from perverse human nature. If the first be the case, you have no genuine contrition; if this inclination proceeds from your perverse nature without your consent, it does not hinder the perfection of your contrition. But how can we distinguish between these two sources of the bad inclination? If you are firmly determined, come what may, not to commit the sin again, your contrition is not rendered imperfect in consequence of the bad inclination. If you hesitate between good and evil, if your resolution is not firm, but a mere volition, your contrition is defective.

2. Many of you entertain fears as to the perfection of their contrition because they do not shed tears. Be reassured. Tears are neither required, nor possible for everyone. The prodigal son did not shed tears—at least Holy Scripture does not mention it—yet his contrition was undoubtedly perfect.

3. Sometimes you feel weary, because you know by sad experience that your relapse is probable and perhaps more than probable. Mind! Fear, on account of your frailty, does not exclude a firm determination to avoid sin. The certainty to sin no more, is one thing; the resolution to sin no more, is another. St. Philip Neri feared on account of his frailty everyday. Yet, who will deny that he had a perfect contrition? If you are firmly resolved to sin no more, you may feel at ease.

4. Others entertain fear, because they know that not only love of God, but also dread of punishment, has a part in their contrition. I answer them, that man can repent of his sins for the motive of love and fear at the same time. A woman who has been unfaithful to her husband, can she not repent of her crime, from the double motive of fear of punishment, and the great contumely brought upon her husband? Repent, then, of your sins from a just fear of eternal punishment, and your contrition will be imperfect. Then reflect on the divine bounty and majesty offended by you, and your contrition will be perfect.

5. I hear you say: According to what our ghostly father preaches to-day, perfect contrition seems not so arduous. But we often heard you say and prove by Scripture, by the testimonies of the Holy Fathers, and by sad experience, that sinners cannot rely on the contrition they may experience on their death bed. How can these two assertions be reconciled with each other? I tell you, how? David could not walk in Saul's armour, not because it was impossible of itself, but because "he was not used to it." I Kings xvii, 39. In this sense, and for the same reason, I have been endeavoring so often to caution you not to put your confidence in conversion on death bed. The saintly Cardinal Bellarmine witnessed once with grief in his heart, how a sinner despaired on his death bed so as to prevent him from ever attempting to make a good contrition, because he had not learned it by practice in his life.

 

IV. THE ADVANTAGES OF PERFECT CONTRITION.

Although the case may never occur, when perfect contrition will be absolutely necessary for your salvation, yet the great advantages resulting from it should induce you to make frequent acts of perfect contrition. And what are these advantages?

1. By perfect contrition the sinner is instantaneously cleansed from his sins, and adopted as one of God's children; whilst by reason of sin he had the devil for his father. "You are of your father, the devil; and the desires of your father you will do." John viii, 44.

2 If we are in the state of grace, the grace and beauty of our soul is increased and multiplied. A bride uses great efforts to increase her beauty, that she may be loved the more by her bridegroom. Your soul is the bride of God.

3. By perfect contrition the temporal punishment due for our past sins is either entirely or, at least partly, released; the flames of purgatory are extinguished. If you be negligent in making acts of perfect contrition, you show clearly that you either do not believe, how tormenting are the sufferings in purgatory; or that you are your own enemies.

4. Every act of perfect contrition augments your glory in heaven; and the least increase thereof is infinitely more valuable than the whole world.

5. Perfect contrition often elicited takes away the painful fear, by which even pious Christians are tormented of being out of the love of God. He who makes every day an act of perfect contrition, says Suarez, may rest assured that of his many acts of contrition there is at least one that took away his sin. (De Gratia ix, 11, n. 7).

6. This constant remembrance of your sins will be the seed of meekness and patience and of a penitential spirit. "I bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." Micheas vii, 9.

 

Peroration: Blessed Angela de Foligno, in consequence of her frequent acts of contrition, desired to be trampled under foot by everyone, and became famous for her austerity. We read in the lives of many other Saints, that by extraordinary compunction they were led to a sacred hatred of their own-selves. How often do confessors experience that penitents, in consequence of a great contrition, are induced to ask for a great penance, and mortify severely their own flesh by voluntary works of penance? Let us imitate them.

 

Source: Repertorium Oratoris Sacri, containing outlines of 600 sermons, for all the Sundays & holidays of the ecclesiastical year, With the approbation of Bishop of Fort Wayne, Version 1878, Page 383, Chapter: 13th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Act of Contrition

O my God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee; and I detest all 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. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

 

Then we must place ourselves into the Merciful Hands of God and await the day when we can receive the absolution of a genuinely faithful approbated Catholic priest. Many of us may die without a priest. Pray for and Support the Hierarchy in Exile ...We must trust in God ... keep His Commandments ... hold fast to the Faith ... respect the Laws and Judgments of the Apostolic Church. Be not duped or confounded by the V-2 counter-church or intellectually dishonest ephemeral 'sedevacantist' 'mass apostolates'."

 

Related Links: Examination of Conscience

 

Sweet Heart of Mary, be our Salvation (300 days indulgence).