TRUE AND PERFECT SORROW
How can I possibly
know if I am really and truly sorry for my sins?
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
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
Printable PDF Version
Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti verbum
Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
know your works ... that you have but little power, and
yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
Copyright © 2004 - 2021 Boston Catholic
Journal. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise stated, permission
is granted by the Boston Catholic Journal for the copying
and distribution of the articles and audio files under the
following conditions: No additions, deletions, or
changes are to be made to the text or audio files in any
way, and the copies may not be sold for a profit. In the
reproduction, in any format of any image, graphic, text,
or audio file, attribution must be given to the Boston Catholic