Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Prayer of Contrition: Turning Away from Sin and Toward God

I originally shared this story in my column back in 2015, and it’s worth repeating now.

I was talking with a friend of mine who had just returned home from a rehab facility to deal with an addiction. It had been several years since I had seen her and she appeared to be very different from the person that I remembered. She glowed with utter happiness and joy.

After we embraced and talked for a while about her experience in rehab, I asked her, “Tell me, Judith, as you worked the 12 Steps, what did you learn about yourself?” She looked deeply into my eyes, sighed and said, “I cannot control life! But God can! I finally let Him! You see, part of the recovery process led me to realize that the place in which I felt the most insecure, the most broken and the most incomplete, I replaced that spot with the feeling of euphoria from getting high. That escape, the feeling of being free, replaced where God should have been. In short, the drugs became an idol that demanded more and more of me until I was totally consumed by it and, during the process, hurt everyone that was closest to me. When I realized that, took an inventory of all my sinful behavior and asked forgiveness not only from God but from those I hurt the most, I experienced a freedom that was utterly amazing!”

I cannot help of thinking of this experience with my friend as I continue my series on prayer as suggested in the book 13 Powerful Ways to Pray by Father Eamon Tobin. In this book, Father Tobin writes about the Prayer of Contrition; how can we truly be sorry for our sins?

Before we dive into contrition, we need to understand what sin is. Let’s look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for this. “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love of God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. (1849) … Sin is an offense against God. … [It] sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. … Sin is ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’” (1850)

The Good News proclaimed in the Gospel is “the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners. (1846) … To receive [God’s] mercy, we must admit our faults.” (1847)  This is where contrition comes into focus. Father Tobin describes contrition this way: “If sin is the cancer that destroys our peace and our relationship with God, contrition is the healing medicine that God provides to restore our peace and our relationship with Him.… It is a gift that God places in our hearts to help us to see the ugliness and destructiveness of sin and to turn away from it and seek God… So, contrition is a turning away from sin (that which destroys life) and a turning toward God (the One who offers us life.)” 1

Father Tobin describes five different ways to be contrite. The items below in bold face are his, the reflections are mine.

We should pray for a contrite heart. A contrite heart should understand and recognize the destructive nature of sin: that it destroys a relationship not only with God but also with our neighbors. A contrite heart calls out for forgiveness and makes restitution when able.

We should pray for the grace to overcome some sinful attitude or behavior in our lives. Have you ever confessed a sin or a sinful attitude over and over again? Have you prayed for the courage to root out this tendency? If not, begin. If yes, do not stop. God will provide the grace to accomplish this according to His timeline!

We should pray that we feel and accept the mercy that God offers to each one of us. The mercy of God. Take some time to contemplate God’s limitless mercy! Such an exercise will strengthen humility. This virtue is the groundwork of all other virtues as well as a quality that brings about utter dependence on God, something that Adam and Eve completely forgot!

We should thank God for the gift of unceasing mercy. As we deepen our ability to live a humble life, we can truly appreciate how much we receive from God. This leads to profound gratitude and a deeper trust in God.

We should pray for true contrition. There are several types of contrition. The first type stems from a fear that if we do not express sorrow for our sins, we will wind up in hell. The second type comes from a profound understanding and belief that our sins separate us from God and the community of humanity. Praying for true contrition leads us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The reception of this sacrament gives us the grace to be truly contrite, appreciative of mercy and God’s love. All of us should flock to this sacrament because it truly assists us!

Can you now understand why Father Tobin sees the Prayer of Contrition as something so important?  I know I can!

1Tobin, Eamon. 13 Powerful Ways to Pray. Beacon Publishing, 2016. Pg. 103.

By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, The Catholic Witness

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