Contrition is essentially an act of the will by which we detest our past sins and resolve not to commit them in future.
Hence sighs, tears, sensible sorrow are not necessary elements of true contrition. Contrition can even attain that degree of disinterested perfection which suffices for the justification of a sinner, in the midst of the greatest dryness and an apparent insensibility. Therefore never allow yourself to be disturbed by the want of sensible sorrow.
10. Do not make violent efforts to excite your soul to contrition, for these only have the effect of producing anxiety, weariness and oppression of mind.
On the contrary seek to become very calm; say lovingly to God that you wish sincerely you had never offended Him and that with the assistance of His grace you will never offend Him more—that is contrition.
True contrition is a product of love, and love acts in a calm.
11. “An act of contrition,” says St. Francis de Sales, “is the work of a moment.” Cast a rapid glance at yourself to see and detest your sins, and another towards God to promise Him amendment and to express a hope of obtaining His assistance in keeping this promise.
David, one of the most contrite penitents that ever lived, expressed his act of contrition in a single word: Peccavi—I have sinned, and by that one word he was justified. *
“You ask how an act of contrition can be made in a short time? I answer that a very good one can be made in almost no time. Nothing more is needed than to prostrate oneself before God in a spirit of humility and of sorrow for having offended Him.”—St. Francis de Sales.*
12. You say you would wish to have contrition but cannot succeed in feeling it. Saint Francis de Sales replies: “The ability to wish is a great power with God, and you thus have contrition by the simple fact that you wish to have it.
You do not feel it indeed at the moment, but neither do you see nor feel a fire covered with ashes, nevertheless the fire exists.”
The immoderate desire of sensible sorrow comes from self-love and self-complacency. A sorrow that satisfies only God is not sufficient for us, we wish it to satisfy us also; we like to find in our sensibility a flattering and reassuring testimony of our love of good.
13. If God does not grant you the enjoyment of sensible sorrow, it is in order that you may gain the merit of obedience, which should suffice to reassure you as to your perfect reconciliation.
Believe therefore with humility, obey with courage, and you will earn a twofold reward. The greatest saints have at times believed they had neither contrition nor love, but in the midst of this darkness of the understanding, their will followed the torch of obedience with heroic submission.
14. Do not conclude that you lack contrition or that your confessions are defective, because you fall again into the same faults.
It is very essential to make a distinction in regard to relapses. Those that are the offspring of a perverse will which has preserved an affection for certain venial sins, takes pleasure and wishes to take pleasure in them,—these should not be tolerated; we must vigorously attack them at the very root and not allow ourselves any respite until they are utterly exterminated.
But those relapses that proceed from inadvertence, from surprise notwithstanding constant vigilance, from the infirmity and frailty of our nature, to these we shall remain partially subject until our last breath.
“It will be doing very well,” says Saint Francis de Sales, “if we get free of certain faults a quarter of an hour before our death.”
And elsewhere: “We are obliged not only to bear with the failings of our neighbor, but likewise with our own and to be patient at the sight of our imperfections.”
We must try to correct ourselves, but we should do it tranquilly and without anxiety. We cannot become angels before the proper time. *
“You complain that you still have many faults and failings notwithstanding your desire for perfection and a pure love of God.
I assure you that it is impossible to be entirely divested of self whilst we are here below. We shall always be obliged to bear ourselves about with us until God transfers us to heaven; and whilst we do this we carry something that is of no value.
It is necessary, therefore, to have patience, and not to expect to cure ourselves in a day of the numerous bad habits contracted through past carelessness in regard to our spiritual welfare.
Pray do not look here, there and everywhere: look only at God and yourself; you will never see God devoid of goodness, nor yourself without wretchedness and that wretchedness the object of God’s goodness and mercy.”—St. Francis de Sales.
*Fénelon speaks in the same tone: “You should never be surprised or discouraged at your faults. You must bear with them patiently yet without flattering yourself or sparing correction. Treat yourself as you would another.
As soon as you find you have committed a fault make an interior act of self-condemnation, turn to God to receive a penance, and then tell your fault with simplicity to your director.
Begin over again to do well as though it were the first time, and do not grow weary if you have to make a fresh start every day.
Nothing is more touching to the Sacred Heart of Jesus than this humble and patient courage.
We should not be cast down if we have many temptations and even commit numerous faults.
‘Virtue,’ says the Apostle, ‘is made perfect in infirmity.’
Spiritual progress is effected less by sensible devotion, relish and spiritual consolations, than by means of interior humiliation and frequent recourse to God.”*
15. Habitually add to your confession some general accusation of all the sins of your past life, or of such of them as occasion you most remorse.
Say, for example, I accuse myself of sins against purity, or charity, or temperance. You thus preclude the possibility of there being lack of sufficient matter for the validity of the Sacrament.