Sunday, 29 March 2020

Forgiveness without Confession? A Perfect Act of Contrition: 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A

Ezek 37:12014; Jn 11:1-45
One of the things that a lot of people are talking about is this:
What sort of world is going to emerge out of this coronavirus crisis?  
It’s having a big effect, and economically and socially it’s going to change things 
-but how?  and for the better or for the worse?
Will it have different priorities?  Better or worse priorities?  
Will it have forgotten God after months without Sunday Mass? 
or, will it emerge with a set of priorities that look to the realities beyond?

In my words today I want to ask a parallel question:
What sort of YOU is going to emerge from this, and what sort of ME?
Our readings at Mass this Sunday speak of a resurrection:
not the resurrection of the Lord Jesus -we’re not at Easter yet;
but the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 9:1041), and, 
in the prophecy of Ezekiel (Ezek 37:12-14), a spiritual resurrection  
-God will raise us from our graves of sin, put His “spirit” in us, and we shall live.
If that happens, then there is a new and better ‘me’, and a better ‘you’.

Making a good confession is an important part of the change we need.
Normally, on this 5th Sunday of Lent, I would be preaching about the need to go to confession.
However, at this moment in time, we’re not allowed any form of meeting that might enable confession.  
That means that I, too, can’t go to confession myself during this crisis.

In this regard, we are like many people, at many times, in many parts of the world, who don’t have access to the sacraments.
Nothing replaces the sacraments, 
but, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, 
we can make what is called “a perfect act of contrition”, 
with the resolution to confess our sins as soon as we are able.  
This “obtains forgiveness of mortal sins”(CCC 1452).
How?  Well, if we make a perfect act of contrition, and, if we then die without confession, 
then we are something like the early martyrs of the Church who were martyred even before their baptism while they were still preparing for baptism -we speak of “baptism of desire” or “baptism by blood” because they were yearning for actual baptism, and gained (without baptism) the graces of baptism by the blood of their martyrdom.

So, what do we need to do to make such a “perfect act of contrition”?
First, obviously, we need to see our sins.  
So, we need to examine of consciences, 
look here online for the sheet I normally give out using the 7 deadly sins.
Then, and this is all laid out in the Church, nicely listed in both the new catechism (see here)
and the Catechism of the Council of Trent (see here)
there are certain conditions that indicate whether, after we’ve seen our sin, are ‘contrite’ or sorry:
·      I need to “detest” the sin, hate it (CCC 1451)
-if I’m still rejoicing in a sin of lust or gluttony, then I don’t detest the sin; I’m not really sorry about it;
·      I need to resolve not to do it again, to have “a firm purpose of amendment” (c.f. CCC 1451)
-I might know I’m weak, know I’m likely to sin again, but if I “resolve” not to, then I have this ‘purpose purpose of amendment”
·      I need to intend to make “satisfaction” for my sins (Trent p.278 c.f. Summa Theologica Supp q1a1)
-my sins hurt others, and hurt God
-if I’m really sorry, then I obviously want to do something to undo, to remedy that hurt
·      I need to be sorry for ALL my sins, to have “universal” contrition

Now, what I’ve said so far describes sorrow in general,
but there is a difference between “perfect” and “imperfect” contrition:
There are lots of ways that our sorrow can be imperfect, 
and one of great things about the sacrament of Penance (Confession) is that it gives us graces to help us rise from imperfect to perfect condition;
given that none of us can get to Confession right now, 
that’s something we can nonetheless pray that God grants us, 
but we can also work to cooperate with that grace -by thinking about what ‘perfect’ contrition is.
“Perfect” contrition means:
·      I’m sorry for the right MOTIVE: I’m sorry because my sin offends God, I’m sorry because I LOVE God -perfect contrition is motivated by love of God.
o   In contrast, if I’m sorry because I see that sin is ugly (I hate the ugliness of my impatience), or if I’m sorry because I fear hell but not because I love God -then my sorrow is real, but it’s not perfect.
·      I’m sorry in the sense of desiring the sacrament that brings reconciliation, i.e. I intend to get to “sacramental confession as soon as possible”(CCC 1452, c.f. DS 1677)
o   If I say I’m sorry, but don’t intend to use the sacramental means God has established to forgive my sins, then my sorrow is far from perfect.

So, all that said, if I make “a perfect act of contrition”, then even now, before getting to Confession, I can 
“obtain forgiveness of mortal sins”(CCC 1452).

If you want to read a little more, you can follow this link to St Maximilian Kolbe’s comments on making a perfect act of contrition when unable to get to confession here

So, to bring that all together and sum it up:
What sort of world will emerge from this coronavirus crisis?
What sort of ME will emerge?
I resolve that it will be a better me, not a worse me.

While none of us can get to confession right now, let’s try and focus ourselves to make “a perfect act of contrition”:

  •         Let’s pray before the Lord, humbly;
  •         think of what our sins are;
  •         hate our sins;
  •         resolve not to sin again;
  •         intend to make satisfaction for my sins;
  •         be sorry for the right motive out of love of God;
  •         and, intend to get to “sacramental confession as soon as possible”(CCC 1452, c.f. DS 1677)
Finally, make the act of contrition prayer you’d normally make in confession (see here),
to ask God’s forgiveness.
Then like the martyrs seeking baptism but being killed before receiving it, 
the grace of confession will be brought to us already, in anticipation,
and like Ezekiel’s dead, we sinners will rise from our “graves”

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