BY REV. F. QUIRIJNEN, S.J
VI-WHEN OUGHT WE TO MAKE AN ACT OF PERFECT CONTRITION
All Catholics know that in a sudden danger of death, the first thing to do is to make an act of Perfect Contrition: think of Our Lord crucified, repent for having offended so great and good a God and then put all one’s trust in His mercy.
But, one may ask, will one have sufficient leisure for his act? With the grace of God, yes, since it requires but a moment, provided, however, that during our life we have made it a practice. In the hour of death we reap the reward of good habits acquired during life. We must, therefore, try and acquire the habit of making acts of Perfect Contrition. Hence:
1. If at any time we have the misfortune of sinning grievously instead of remaining in that wretched state till our next Confession, let us rise immediately from it by making an act of Perfect Contrition. By it we are restored in the friendship of God and all our good works become again meritorious for heaven.
2. A man in mortal sin goes to bed at night an enemy of God. What is his fate should death surprise him in his sleep? If, however, he rises in the morning, he starts his day again as an enemy of God. For days and weeks, perhaps months and years, he continues in this fearful state. Miserable man-in constant danger of being lost eternally. Poor, wasted life!- without any merits for heaven. Yet it is so easy to avoid this: just make a brief examination of conscience, and an Act of Perfect Contrition.
3. But let us aim higher still and try to acquire the habit of studding our whole day with little acts of Contrition. With God’s grace we can multiply these acts throughout the day. Our daily prayers, works and sufferings can easily be transformed into acts of Contrition.
(a) If we pray in the humble disposition of the publican, ―Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, we shall very often, without even thinking of it have Perfect Contrition, for example when you hear Mass, or make the Stations of the Cross; when you reflect before your crucifix or an image of the Sacred Heart.
(b) The three first petitions of the ―Our Father: ―Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven are acts of perfect love of God, and consequently of Perfect Contrition if at the same time we remember our sins.
(c) Similarly, the Rosary, said with the mind quietly reflecting on the Mysteries of Our Lord, especially the Sorrowful Mysteries, easily becomes a prayer of Perfect Contrition.
(d) Our trials and sufferings, too, can be made into so many acts of Contrition. This is beautifully shown by a scene in the life of King David. In his youth David had fallen into the awful sins of adultery and murder. He repented and God let him know that his sins were forgiven. Yet, never in later years did the holy king allow his offences to fade from his memory. In his old age, when his son, Absolom, rose in revolt, David was forced to flee and was met by a man named Semei, who began to throw stones at the old king and to curse him, saying, ―Come out, come out, thou man of blood. . . One of David’s servants, indignant at this insult, said to the king, ―Why should this dead dog curse my lord and king? I will go and cut off his head. But the king answered, ―Let him alone that he may curse as the Lord hath bidden him. Perhaps the Lord may look upon my affliction, and render me good for the cursing of this day. Remembering his sins, the holy king willingly accepted the worst insults in expiation.
(e) The fervent Christian goes further still. Not content with accepting the trials and sufferings God’s Providence sends him he freely, of his own accord, daily adds some mortifications and sacrifices so as to make up for the past by a generous reparation for himself and for others also.
Compunction of Heart.-By the practice of frequent acts of contrition one’s whole spiritual life becomes penetrated with that sweet scent of abiding sorrow for one’s sins which spiritual authors call ―compunction of heart.
Compunction consists in HABITUAL CONTRITION, the abiding state of hatred of sin out of love for God’s supreme Goodness. It is a continual participation in the sorrow of Our Lord for our sins, ―the Sacred Heart leaving faint stigmata of His one lifelong sorrow upon our hearts.
The Saints never weary in recommending this compunction of heart. ―We should, says St. Benedict, ―daily confess to God, in prayer, with tears and sighs, our, past sins.- The great St. Teresa, formed to perfection by Our Lord Himself, had placed under her eyes in her oratory, in order to make it the refrain of her prayer, this text of the Psalmist: ―Enter not, O Lord, into judgment with Thy servant. This is no exclamation of love, as we would have expected from this seraphic soul, but a cry of compunction. The souls most forestalled with divine favours, she said, are also the most filled with the sense of compunction.
The English spiritual writer, Fr. Faber, narrates how for a long time he was puzzled by the fact ―that so many persons have lofty and sincere aspirations after high perfection, and so few reach it. . . . This must have a common cause. What is it?
After long years of inquiries, reflection, and hesitations he came to ―the persuasion that the common cause of all failure in perfection is the Want of Abiding Sorrow for Sin. He adds, ―All holiness has lost its principle of growth if it is separated from abiding sorrow for sin, while on the contrary, ―No vocation will he frustrated by a soul in which there is this abiding sorrow for sin.
The Saints are characteristic for their firmness and stability in the spiritual life. Then why that want of firmness in many of those who strive after perfection? ―The reason is most often to be found in the lack of compunction. . . . There is no surer means of rendering the spiritual life firm and steadfast than to impregnate it with the spirit of compunction.
The importance of acquiring this abiding sense of sorrow is strongly impressed on us by the Church. With her uninterrupted offering of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary, the administration of Sacraments and Sacramentals, the practices of devotion, her Liturgy and all her prayers and exhortations, the Church has but one aim in view: to realize the full ideal to which God calls her, namely, that she might become ―a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, but that she should be holy . . . and unspotted in His sight in charity.
Now it is striking how her most solemn prayer, holy Mass, nay her whole Liturgy, are pervaded with the abiding sense of sorrow for ―innumerable sins, offences and negligences.
The ―De Profundis and the ―Miserere these perfect and inspired expressions of the spirit of compunction, are constantly on the lips of her priests and religious. And she never tires of exhorting us, in season and out of season, to repentance and contrition. Undoubtedly in her mind-and in this matter she is infallible-the realization of her ideal of sanctity is closely connected with the spirit of compunction or habitual Perfect Contrition. She even allows Masses with special orations to be said for the ―Gift of Tears of compunction. We may aptly close this little exposition of her teaching by quoting the first of these orations:
―Almighty and most loving God, who, to quench the thirst of Thy people, madest a fountain of living water spring out of a rock, draw from our stony hearts tears of compunction, that we may be able to mourn for our sins, and win pardon for them from Thy mercy. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Censor Theol. Deputatus.