Perfect contrition, confession and forgiveness

So, what did you do?
You know.
So, we have it?

This tongue in cheek exchange could represent the shortest confession ever. But it is not shorter than the act of perfect contrition and the subsequent forgiveness on Calvary: “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 

At the moment of our death we can wish nothing better than complete reconciliation with God and the promise enjoyed by the Good Thief Dismas on Good Friday: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Perfect contrition” is a special grace we receive in the depths of our hearts when we are truly sorry for all our sins. St. Dismas, acknowledging that he was suffering just punishments for his sins, turned to his crucified Savior and said with trust: “Lord, remember me when You come into your Kingdom.”

“Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.” Mahatma Gandhi

But while we live on this earth and struggle with our daily temptations and life’s pleasures and enticements, we can benefit from the gift of confession or reconciliation as Catholics call it. 

I confess at the outset that I am a practicing Catholic, and I will continue to practice until I get it right. As a Roman Catholic I see the sacrament of Reconciliation neglected by many who are closest to its potential graces. By and large the Catholic faithful practice what some call “corporate confession” at Sunday service.

Christian churches worship, sing, and praise God on Sunday morning. Together we profess our weaknesses and ask God’s pardon for our sins. Catholics do this in a penitential rite at the beginning of Mass. This corporate act of confessing gives us humility and prepares us for sharing the Eucharist.

The gift of the sacramental reconciliation is one that can be celebrated frequently, as it gives grace and puts us in touch with Divine life. Confession is something we will never outgrow, even if we become the saints God made us to be. 

“St John Paul II and St Teresa of Calcutta were revered even during their lifetime; but both made frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” Donald Wuerl

“Confession is Good for the Soul” says an old Scottish proverb. Pastor Matt Fuller agrees: “We approach the Lord as sinners who are loved and forgiven as his children.” The Lord delights in “…those who are humble and contrite in spirit.” (Isaiah 66 v 2). 

Fuller says confession prevents self-righteousness and keeps our “inner Pharisee” from looking around the room and saying: “God, I thank you that I’m not like…” (Luke 18:9-14). (from “Four reasons every church service needs a time of confession”)

Shakespeare understood conscience, sin, forgiveness and inner struggles as reflected in Hamlet’s soliloquys, and in the universal human struggles, the psychology and theology we find in his works.

“The quality of mercy is not strained; / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven /
Upon the place beneath.” (The Merchant of Venice IV i )

Mercy “is an attribute of God himself,” Shakespeare says in the speech that follows: “We do pray for mercy; / And that same prayer doth teach us all to render / The deeds of mercy.”

In other words, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us… “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”, Shakespeare says.

(576 words)

By Ken Rolheiser