Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
It was the morning of D-Day. June 6, 1944. Father Francis Sampson, Chaplain in the 101st Airborne Division, found himself in a French farmhouse, ministering to the wounded. His makeshift aid station was soon surrounded by Nazi soldiers. In fact, they were SS. They set up a machine gun to finish off the American wounded. Fr. Sampson, bravely attempting to call them off, was captured and was about to be shot himself when a Catholic German officer intervened to save his life.
Recounting this harrowing episode, Fr. Sampson recalled how he had tried to make the Act of Contrition but was so nervous that all that came to him was a Grace Before Meals, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts!” Regardless of the words, Fr. Sampson’s prayer was answered and his life was spared along with those of the wounded American servicemen.
So, what’s the moral of this true story? That we should all try to memorize the Act of Contrition, even if we don’t always remember it! That’s I want to talk about in, this, Week 9 of Disciples Together on the Way.
Many of us learned an Act of Contrition as children in preparation for our First Reconciliation. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the traditional Act of Contrition as follows:
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 offend 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 to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
A newer translation from the Rite of Penance is similar:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.
While one may formulate his own act of contrition, the theology of these traditional formulae is rich and worthy of a brief reflection.
To begin, recall that if we want God to forgive our sins, we must be sorry for our sins; We must be contrite. Contrition is itself a working of grace. Perfect Contrition arises in our hearts when we detest our sins because we do not want to offend the One we love. Imperfect Contrition arises not from love, but from a fear of eternal damnation. While our contrition may be motived out of fear in the early stages of discipleship, the goal for a disciple is to hate our sins out of love for God. Indeed, the greatest gains in the struggle against sin are made when the love of God in our hearts is stronger than the allure of sin.
Next, while we cannot guarantee we will never sin again, we must at least have The resolution to cease committing that sin. This resolution must also include avoiding those situations that I know can lead me to sin. For example, we must not go to a bar if we have committed the sin of drunkenness.
Finally, why is praying the Act of Contrition helpful in growing as disciple? Because by our contrition, we open ourselves to God’s fatherly and merciful heart. After his infidelity with Bathsheba, King David prayed another act of contrition, Psalm 51, which concludes: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” We would do well to follow David’s example of offering our contrite hearts to the Lord each day.
Hence, my challenge this week: I want each of us to recite nightly the Act of Contrition. It is my hope that in doing this we will memorize this prayer.
See you next week as we continue our pilgrimage as Disciples Together on the Way. Until then, may God bless you throughout this coming week, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing