On True Contrition for Sin.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On True Contrition for Sin.
Once more place before you the image of the prodigal son entering into himself. Realize his profound, bitter sorrow and contrition, observe that he no longer considers himself worthy to be called a “son”; see how keenly he feels, how truly he means what he says, when with tears he exclaims: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee”; and then the desire will probably awaken within your heart to be like the prodigal in his repentance, as you were like him in his sin.
1st. Consider: What is contrition? The sacred Council of Trent thus defines it: “Contrition is a sorrow of the soul and an abhorrence of past sins, with the firm resolve to sin no more in future.” Consider these several characteristics of contrition one by one. Sorrow above all is essential to contrition; that is, not a passing emotion, but a real affliction of soul, which is based upon the detestation, the abhorrence wherewith sin inspires us. Only that which is most repugnant to us, and which we would consequently right gladly thrust far from us really causes us pain. Contrite sorrow is therefore in the first place hatred, abhorrence of sin. But whoso is sorry for sin, and hates and loathes his sin, is as a matter of course determined not to commit it again, for to do so would prove that he did not hate, but loved it. True contrition is therefore a resolute turning away of the will from sins which have been or may be committed, united to grief of soul. Thus the main point in contrition consists in the attitude of the will, not the state of the feelings; in hatred and loathing, not in effusive tears. “If sin is displeasing to thee,” says a great master of the spiritual life, “because thou hast thereby offended God, thou hast true contrition. As regards the other emotions (sensible grief, tears, sighs, etc.) which take their rise in the sensitive part of our nature, accept them gratefully, if God is pleased to grant them to thee; but let it not disquiet thee, if thou hast them not, for God does not require of thee what is beyond thy power to give. But what He does demand from thee, and what is entirely within thy power to produce, is that sorrow which is the result of a firm determination never to offend against Him again.” Think over these words, and learn how to awaken true contrition of heart.
2d. Consider that what is primarily and principally calculated to excite this contrition within us, and lead us to conceive this hatred and abhorrence of sin, is the consideration of the loathsomeness of sin. “Sin,” says the holy Archbishop Antony, “is so utterly foul, that in comparison with it any bodily defilement such as leprosy, festering sores, nay the most disgusting carrion or the filth of a whole world is as nothing in the sight of God and His saints.” “Did men but know,” says St. Gregory, “how horrible are the wounds inflicted on the soul, how horribly disfigured the soul is in God’s eyes by one mortal sin, he would struggle against it even to death.” My soul, have you never had a purulent ulcer on your body, have you never seen a partly decomposed body? What a loathsome sight it presented, how disgusting the effluvium from it! Now sin is a spiritual ulcer, and the soul that is tainted with mortal sin resembles a decomposed corpse. Look at a godly, virtuous young man, and contrast his healthy, blithe, pleasing appearance, the innocent expression of his bright, clear eyes, with the distorted, bloated features of one who is addicted to vice, already branded with the mark of reprobation, whose ruined health and diseased body, corrupt even before death, are a true index to the horrible state of his soul in consequence of mortal sin. “Woe to you, miserable mortal,” cries St. Bernard, “for thou hast painted over the image of God with the likeness of the devil.” “Behold, O Christian soul,” such is the exhortation St. Bonaventure gives us, “in how fair and comely a form God created thee! See how He adorned thee with gifts of grace yet more lovely and precious than those of nature; now look at thyself and see how hideous thou hast become because of sin!” Meditate frequently, my soul, on the abominable nature of sin until it sickens you, and then perhaps you may learn truly to hate and abhor it.
3d. Consider yet another motive to lead you to true contrition, that is the fatal consequences of sin. It was this that first brought the prodigal son to repentance. Sin is not only odious in itself but terrible in its consequences. Not only does it rob the soul of her supernatural beauty, it also closes against her the golden gates of paradise, and precipitates her into the abyss of hell. One single mortal sin will counteract all the exertions, annihilate the results of a lifelong struggle; nay, the bitter Passion of Jesus Christ, His precious blood, His cruel death, are null and void, as far as you are concerned, if you are guilty of one mortal sin. God, the most merciful, the most bountiful. the most loving God, sees His only-begotton Son suffering, bleeding, dying for you, and yet He is compelled to sentence you to everlasting damnation, if you die in mortal sin. Those are only the eternal consequences of sin. Let us glance briefly at its temporal consequences. St. Laurence Justinian says that no words can express the deadly nature of sin. Sin once overspread the earth and destroyed the whole human race, with the exception of eight persons. Sin drew down fire from heaven, on the cities of Sodom, and because of it they and all their inhabitants were burnt up. Sin was the cause for which the earth opened and swallowed up Core, Dathan and Abiron alive. Why, O man, dost thou complain of misfortunes, sickness, persecution, poverty, misery and want? These are all only the consequences of sin! How indeed is it that we can tolerate for an instant anything so fatally hurtful to us that we do not feel the utmost detestation and abhorrence of this evil thing, that it does not cause us acute pain to have stained our heaven-born, beauteous soul, cleansed in the blood of Christ, with what is so hateful in itself so ruinous and destructive to ourselves?
Consider this well, and then pray with the Psalmist: “Give us for our drink tears in measure” that we may bewail our sins in deep contrition of heart.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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