When Contrition Becomes PerfectThe state of contrition in which the soul no longer fears punishment but is genuinely hurt by the simple fact sin offends God is called perfect. This form of perfect contrition does not come naturally but only through a relationship with Christ. This relationship seeks out Christ for his own sake. In seeking out Christ, a dualistic relationship forms between the soul and Christ. First a relationship that acknowledges Christ as its king. Christ is seen as part of the Trinity, and as that, the Creator of the universe. In this regard, the soul trembles in holy fear of offending so awesome a Being and King. While initially this contrition is of fear, it can also be of a loving fear that one would offend one’s holy Majesty via sin.
Yet beyond the grand image of God as the uncaused cause or as an omnipotent and omniscient being that we should tremble before, Christ allows a second relationship to develop that involves a real personal relationship. It reveals the fatherhood of the 1st Person and the brotherhood the human nature of Christ bestows upon us. In this personal relationship, God interacts with us as a being that can be hurt. Before, the Incarnation, God could only be “offended” via the injustice of sin, but through the incarnation, God can now suffer and be affected by our actions. In this, our love becomes deeper and more personal and the contrition likewise becomes more personal. Through our sins, we are now hurting God who has put on flesh to save us. God feels rejection and abandonment through the Incarnation and opens his loving and sacred heart to us. As in all loving relationships, the gift of love involves risk because it opens oneself to hurt and betrayal. When we sin, we hurt and betray our Lord. Through our sins, we scourge him. Through our sins, the weight of the cross becomes unbearable and finally through our sins, we nail him to the cross.
When one experiences sorrow and pain after sinning because they realize they are crucifying Jesus, then they experience perfect contrition. In this contrition, the person furthermore hopes to never sin again and also finds a deep pain when they see others offend God.
As union becomes more intimate with the Divine, these secrets are more perfectly revealed and as the soul exits the embrace of its beloved, the soul mourns the sins of the world as if pierced itself. The love can become so burning that the soul wishes to suffer anything it can in union with Christ for reparation.
This intensive union brings the soul to states of happiness but also intense sadness. This union comes with its scars especially in a fallen world. Unable to be completely absorbed via the beatific vision, the soul can still experience separation from the beloved and also feel the pain the smallest sin can cause God. In this way, those who experience perfect contrition and form a higher union with God become pilgrims in a vast wasteland. However, they find great joy in this journey because they realize they can help bring others to love God and offer up their own trials as well.
As counselors, we can always encourage perfect contrition via pious writings about the passion of our lord or reflections on sacred images that depict Christ’s death. One should also encourage those who are struggling with temptation to imagine the face of Christ being slapped every time they enter into a sinful action. Some fear temptation so much, that they would wish Christ to completely remove the occasion or temptation but it is through one’s victories over temptation that one gives Christ the greatest joy and satisfaction. When one falls, they must get up again and offer tears and sorrow to their best friend and God. Religious counselors need to emphasize this type of sorrow to their spiritual children who have offended God.
In conclusion, What is true love for God? Imagine if you had a friend who was about to do something for you that would cost him everything. His love for you is so great he will risk it all, but as a friend, you block his path and forbid him to carry on in this endeavor. So should be the love one has for Christ when reflecting on his suffering. While always grateful of the redemption and knowing we need it to be saved and share heaven with our beloved, can we honestly say to Christ, as he sweats blood in the garden, to “walk away” because we cannot bear the thought of one we love to die such a way—even though it will cost us everything? If we could say that, then we truly understand love.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C