BY REV. F. QUIRIJNEN, S.J
The dealings of God with mankind throughout history are a divine romance of condescending love and infinite mercy. This truth is splendidly borne out by the doctrine of Perfect Contrition, if we consider it in its proper setting, namely, by recalling to mind what sin is, what makes its malice, and how the sinner can be reconciled with God.
I. SIN AND REDEMPTION
The Malice of Sin.-Sin is a willful offence against God, our Creator and Last End. On God we depend entirely and at every instant. To Him we belong: ―In Him we live and move and are. Therefore His Commandments must be the rule of all our actions. To submit to His will wholeheartedly and to regulate one’s life according to His laws is a strict duty of justice on the part of the creature to its Creator, the servant to His Master. At the same time this service is man’s greatest dignity and the only way of realizing the end for which he has been created, that is, God’s glory and his own happiness.
Now when he commits a grievous sin man destroys the moral order established by God and despises His Commandments. He exclaims as a rebel, ―I will not serve; he turns away from his final end, the immutable Good, which is God, and seeks his gratification in creatures that can never satisfy his thirst for happiness.
Even all this does not lay bare the full malice of sin. God is more to us than our Creator and Lord. Through grace poured into our souls in Baptism God has become our Heavenly Father and we His beloved children sharers of His divine life partakers of His very Nature and future heirs to His Heavenly Kingdom. St. John exclaims with joy and enthusiasm, ―See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are! And he concludes: ―Now, therefore, my dearest children, abide in Him and do not sin. Besides being an offence against God’s infinite Majesty, sin has now the additional malice of being a revolt of the child towards his Father. The sinner rejects the love of Him ―Who has so loved man as to give His only begotten Son, that they should possess eternal life; he breaks the bonds of personal friendship established by grace between himself and the Divine Persons;he ―crucifies by his own act the Son of God afresh and openly disgraces Him; he expels the Holy Ghost, the sweet Guest of his soul; he destroys in himself the Kingdom of God and cuts himself off from the source of eternal life and happiness. Such free and deliberate acts of sin constitute supreme ingratitude and revolt against a God of infinite Majesty, Holiness and Love. Hence the malice of sin is in a certain sense infinite and the sinner deserves in strict justice an eternal punishment: ―Of how much worse punishment, says St. Paul, ―think you, will be judged worthy, who has trampled upon the Son of God, and regarded the Blood of the Covenant, by which he was sanctified, a profane thing. . . . For we know who it was that said, ―Vengeance is mine, I will repay. . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! St. Paul has here in view the especially grave sin of apostasy from the faith, yet this terrible indictment the sinner will incur for every mortal sin, unless he repents in time.
Reconciliation, the Work of Two .-Sin is the work of man who freely, of his own accord, has turned away from God. But can he also repair his fault, create again order out of disorder, make up for the offence and obtain pardon?-He can, no doubt lament what he has done and do penance for it. Yet, left to himself, all his tears and sighs and sorrow will be of no avail whatever. In no other field does man’s utter helplessness thrust itself so forcibly upon him as when he endeavours to rise from sin. It takes two persons to obtain one pardon. The sinner, says St. Thomas, is like the man who throws himself into a deep pit; he is himself the cause of his fall, but of himself he cannot get out in the same way as he could throw himself into it. God, the Divine Offended, alone can blot out his sin by tendering His pardon: ―Who can forgive sin but God alone?
Few points of our Faith are so fundamental and more explicit in the teaching of the Church: ―If anyone, defines the Council of Trent, ―maintains that without the previous inspiration of the Holy Ghost and His help, man is able to believe, hope, love or do penance as it behaves, so that the grace of justification be granted to him, let him be condemned.
The reconciliation of the sinner with God must, then, of necessity be the work of two: God and the sinner. God’s Part in forgiving is primary and foremost. The initiative must come from Him. He must make the first step towards our reconciliation, by manifesting His will to restore us in His friendship. Is God ready to forgive our sins?-Yes, He is and we must be deeply convinced of this; else our repentance for sins will not be true contrition, but merely the remorse of Judas that led to despair: ―When Judas, who betrayed Him, saw that He was condemned, he repented . . . saying: I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!’ Then he went off and hanged himself.
God has manifested His wish and His will to forgive us all our offences by such unmistakable and compelling proofs that still to doubt His mercy would bean offence worse than all our previous sins together. ―God is love, says the Apostle St. John, and ―He has displayed His love in our regard by sending His only begotten Son into the world in order that we might live through Him. The same truth is affirmed by St. Paul, in yet stronger terms: ―God proves His love towards us, because, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . .
Our reconciliation, therefore, as far as it depends on God, is assured.
The Part of Christ.-God calls us to reconciliation with Himself through Christ and in Christ. Being true man, Christ could suffer and satisfy. Being all Love, He generously embraced the arduous mission signified by His very name: ―Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. ―He gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God. Being true God, His satisfaction had infinite value:
―One drop of His blood has power to save the whole world, says St. Thomas no less truly than beautifully. ―Christ’s voluntary suffering was such a good act that, because of its being found in human nature, God was appeased for every offence of the human race.
Thus Christ satisfied for our sins and merited our reconciliation. At the same time He became the supreme model and measure of our reparation and expiation:
―Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow His footsteps.
And remember that Christ merited and satisfied not only for mankind in general, but for each of us in particular. He is the Saviour of the world; He is as much My Saviour. Each one of us may repeat in all truth the words in which St. Paul delighted:
―He has loved ME, He has delivered Himself up for ME.
How fitting it would have been for us to have stood under the Cross of our dying Saviour, in order to offer Him personally up to God as a sacrifice for our sins. This was impossible. But, by the Cross His Mother was standing.
Mary’s presence on Calvary at the supreme moment of her Son’s sacrifice was not fortuitous, but willed by God. She represented all of us and co-operated in the Redemption on behalf of mankind by consenting to the sacrifice of Her divine Son, offering herself with Him and accepting for us in advance the fruits of the Redemption.
Man’s Part.-The application of Christ’s merits to each one of us marks the second phase of our Redemption. And here God wants our co-operation-indeed secondary and subordinate to that of Christ-yet absolutely necessary: ―God who created us without us will not save us without us. God deigns to stand in need of us. In this He respects our sense of responsibility and fairness. Since we have been the cause of the offence, it is meet and just we should take our share in the reparation, too. Do we not, deep in our soul, feel prompted to do so? Does our gratitude towards Christ not urge us to the same? As He died for each one of us, so does He now ―call His own by name to co-operate with Him in their own redemption. Can I bear the thought of merely receiving the benefits of such boundless love without rendering love for love, or without proving my love in some way like that in which He has manifested His love first, namely, by generously taking my share in the reparation? But in what does our co-operation consist?-In allowing God to do fully His work in us through Christ. We believe in Christ as our Redeemer. We trust that for His sake God will be merciful to us; hence we begin to love God, to detest our sins and to do penance for them.
The sinner has built within his soul a citadel where he asserts himself and hardens himself against God and His eternal Law. Before he can go and meet God again and surrender, the citadel of evil must be broken down. This is the work of man’s co-operation, his contrition.