an imperfect perfect act of contrition

26 Nov


“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

That “act of contrition” that I memorized as a child is the one that I still use. I am grateful to whoever it was that made me memorize it way back when. It is so ingrained in me that I will probably be able to say it for as long as I am able to remember anything. The way were schooled, as we learned it, there must have been someone who listened to every syllable until we got it perfect. We must have tried it again, and tried it again, and tried it again, until someone said, “Perfect.”

We were also taught in my day that there was another meaning to “perfect,” when it came to an act of contrition.

When we were sorry for our sins, because we were afraid of the punishment we were going to get from God because of our sins, that is, because we were afraid of going to hell, it was enough to get our sins forgiven, but it was an “imperfect” act of contrition. If we were sorry for our sins, not because we wanted to stay out of hell, but because we loved God and didn’t want to do anything bad, because it would hurt God, which we really didn’t want to do, because we loved God so much, that was much better. That was a “perfect” act of contrition, because it was made out of love, not out of fear. We were told that it was better to work toward perfect sorrow, while we knew that we always had imperfect sorrow as a backup and safety net.

So, which is it for you, perfect or imperfect?

I got a bit of a chuckle when I looked up the exact words of the act of contrition that was taught in the Baltimore Catechism, the catechism from which I was first taught. I noticed that, in my memorized version, which is printed above, I say a couple words wrong. Where I should have memorized, “… because they offend Thee,” I say, “… because they have offended Thee.” Oops. But I am pretty convinced that I am sorry for my sins because I love God, and not because I am am afraid of hell. So, I guess I say an imperfect “perfect” act of contrition. (You are supposed to be smiling now.)

Thanks be to God that it is not a particular set of words that magically convince God or force God to forgive us. Whatever act of contrition we have memorized, or whatever version of words or set of words we use to express your sorrow to God does not matter as much as the fact that we are sorry and that we say it. God just wants us to love and to be sorry for our sins, even when we do not get anything perfect. God just wants to forgive, which God does perfectly!

2 Responses to “an imperfect perfect act of contrition”

  1. Char November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Back in the ’40’s we learned a little longer version, but the same sentiments, I like mine better!!

  2. Aimee May November 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I did indeed smile…

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