Some time ago, a reader asked what perfect contrition meant. I discussed in some detail about the differences between perfect and imperfect contrition. I heard a sermon that outlined the differences really well, and additionally a third type of “contrition” if you’d like to call it that.
The first type of “contrition” is related to embarrassment. Embarrassment is the type of contrition you demonstrate when you get caught doing something wrong and are only sorry because you got caught. Had you not been caught, you wouldn’t be sorry for your transgressions, regardless of how large or small they may be. Since this type of contrition is not focused on God, it is not forgivable and can be damning depending on the severity of the sin. We need to avoid this type of contrition and work on contrition that is more pleasing to God. At the very least, we should have imperfect contrition.
Imperfect contrition occurs when you are sorry because you know that your sins will lead you to Hell. The loss of Heaven moves you to be sorrowful for your sins, but it is only out of fear of Hell that you are truly sorry. You are not sorry because you have offended God and He is all-good and deserving of all your love, but because you fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell. While imperfect contrition is better than embarrassment, it is still disordered. Our sins will be forgiven though we still have the effects of sin and will have to spend more time in Purgatory to be cleansed of this disordered love. As Catholics, we should strive to have perfect contrition.
Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we have offended God and He is all-good and deserving of all of our love. When we sin, we offend God. It is desirable to have perfect contrition because we have offended Him, not only because our sins are bad and will prevent us from entering Heaven. This is similar to when you offend a friend or family member and you want to apologize because you offended them, not because your action was wrong and there might be some consequence for that action. This is the type of contrition we should have when it comes to Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
When we do go to confession we confess all of our mortal sins in kind and number, along with venial sins we are struggling with. It is critical that when we say our Act of Contrition it has been given to us by the Church and has the necessary elements that outline perfect contrition. Sadly, like many of the prayers in the Church today, there are Acts of Contrition that do not meet all the necessary requirements to demonstrate perfect contrition. An example of a good Act of Contrition is as follows:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offending thee, and I detest all of my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all, because I have offended Thee, My God, Who art all good and deserving of all of my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
This Act of Contrition covers both imperfect and perfect contrition because you acknowledge that you do fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell (imperfect contrition), but because you have also offended God, Who is deserving of all of your love (perfect contrition).
How do we achieve perfect contrition? We should align our thoughts and actions and realize that every single time we sin, we both drive the nail into Jesus Christ on the cross and spit in His face. Every single sin we commit is deserving of an eternity in Hell. So we must align our hearts and intellect with God’s. Through daily prayer, daily recitation of the Rosary, and frequent use of confession, we can begin to have a loving relationship with Our Lord. It would also be beneficial to recall the sinner in scripture who said “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and beat his chest three times. This practice, along with reciting the act of contrition, with the mindset that we are doing it out of love for God, will benefit us and allow us to begin to experience perfect contrition.
We are blessed as Catholics to be able to confess our sins to a priest, be absolved, and return to a state of grace. If you are in the state of mortal sin, go to confession, and keep near this wonderful sacrament. Live a holy life, and avoid the near occasion of sin.