TRUE AND PERFECT SORROW
How can I possibly
know if I am really and truly sorry for my sins?
the beginning of
Compline in the
Office of The Blessed Virgin Mary we pray. “Convert thou us, O God
our Savior.” (note that we are not just praying for ourselves, but for
It is part of the agony we all know once we have sinned and have turned
back to God. We do not so much doubt His mercy and forgiveness ....
as we doubt the sincerity of our own sorrow. We tend to look for quantity
in sorrow, rather than intention. We ask ourselves, “are we sorry enough
for this sin? Are we sufficiently sorry to receive the merciful forgiveness
In this sense we are trying to leverage God's mercy; acquire forgiveness
through insufficient means, presuming, as we do, that we can render
a finite quantity for an infinite return. In a word, we presume that
we can, of ourselves, in some measure, effect our own absolution.
It is a matter of quantity, and the wherewithal is sorrow. It is an
odd equation: “if I yield sufficient sorrow, in terms of intensity and
duration, I can leverage that sorrow into absolution; a kind of quid
pro quo not unlike Abraham's bargaining with God: the perennial
The problem with this approach is two-fold: God is not a Capitalist
and we are very poor investors.
The question, we find, must be asked in entirely different terms, terms
that will provide us with a clear answer that has nothing to do with
quantity ... a quantity that we cannot possibly calculate, accumulate,
and proffer to God as so much currency of reciprocal value to an exacting
Sorrow must be understood differently: not in the way of a quantifiable
exchange suggesting parity in terms of the bargainers; that is to say,
not as quantity, but in the way of intentionality.
Let us totally scrap the quantifiable model and take another tack altogether;
something rather along these lines:
If — upon deep, and completely honest reflection – we can
“Could I go back in time, I would that I had never done this.
I would that I could erase what I have done and that it had never
been, never happened. I know I cannot undo it – but if I could,
I would.” — In other words, if we can say this with total
honesty (and that means with a sincere and resolute intention
never to do it again – even if, and despite our best efforts,
we nevertheless fall again and again!) ... then what we express
to God, and what we ourselves experience, is true contrition; in
other words, we are truly sorry: our sorrow is perfect.
On the other hand, if we can withstand our own withering honesty, and
still have the courage to acknowledge that we really are not entirely
sorry for our sin, and were it possible without penalty, we would, in
fact, do it all over again – then, yes, our sin remains with us ...
but ... we have not compounded our sin with a lie.
In truly recognizing that we are not entirely
sort, it is extremely important to understand that all is not lost!
Despite our imperfect sorrow we nevertheless have the integrity to recognize
sin; we do not deny, minimize, or gloss over it; what is more, we acknowledge
our weakness toward it. (most likely we simply regret it, we regret
all the pain, sorrow and suffering it has caused – but regretting, and
being sorry are different – regret does not seek forgiveness or make
But what does this all this mean? It means that we are being truthful
with God, and with ourselves ... despite our sin. Even though we have
offended Him, we still honor Him.
He knows this. And He will help us.
Because even in our imperfect sorrow, we have acknowledged God and know
what He expects of us – and we realize that we have not lived up to
When we finally see beyond the immediate consequences of our sins ...
to the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary ... perfect sorrow will not
be given us ... it will overwhelm us!
We will sorrow because we love. And because we love, we will be forgiven.
How can we be sure? Jesus Christ promised us.
Boston Catholic Journal
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