It dawns on me today that a lot of people in the world do not understand contrition because they don’t understand sin. And when I think about this, I am reminded of footage I once saw in which a mirror was placed in the forest. Most of the dull beasts who wandered to the mirror thought they saw another animal. Only in one other video, in which a chimpanzee was put in front of a mirror, did the animal have a moment of self recognition.
To be sure, people technically and intellectually know the definition of sin. But they fail to understand the role sin played in their lives. People easily point out sin and failure in others. Yet they can’t grasp their own shortcomings. They can’t realize their own moral failings. They can point to Adam and Eve and scoff at our first parents, but they can’t imagine being in either Adam or Eve’s place. Eve committed five sins at the Fall, and Adam committed eight, but could an intemperate mind distinguish between any of them?
Contrite … is a word translated from the Latin, meaning crushed or pulverized. Now, modern people complain about that …. They do not wish their hearts to be pulverized and they do not feel they can sincerely say they are “miserable offenders” [as the English prayer books of that time said] …. I do not think whether we are ‘feeling’ miserable or not matters. I think [the prayer book] is using the word miserable in the old sense—meaning an object of pity.
C.S. LEWIS, FROM THE BUSINESS OF HEAVEN
In this day and age, no one has shame. No one is sorry for what they have done. Westerners want to be glamorous, in your face, unapologetic, and applauded. Our modern culture’s overlords tell us we should always be happy and well-rounded. Third wave feminists express themselves as self-satisfied, glib, proud, unsmiling people. “To hell with those around you. No regrets!” This is a people who cannot grasp remorse or sorrow. They have no idea how Heaven above could look down upon them as pitiable, foolish creatures.
We should recognize ourselves as lamentable sinners. Not that we ought to lack confidence in ourselves, but we should understand how much our sin maliciously shades us from the light of Heaven. We worship God with fear and trembling, and we should run into God’s arms, terrified at what we do to ourselves with our own sins. As the song below goes: “Jesus Lord, I ask for mercy, let me not implore in vain. All my sins I now detest them, never will I sin again.”
A better explanation comes from St. Francis de Sales. We should go to confession with a humble and confident mind. We shouldn’t be afraid when we go to Christ’s priests. One should overcome their pride, and realize that their embarrassing sin is shameful only when it is committed. But in spite of everything, once we confess and repent, we have done an honorable act. God permits us to sin, true. But once we show contrition and confess our sin, we have done a beautiful thing that Heaven admires. St. Francis de Sales explains that if we are truly humble,
our sins will be infinitely offensive to us since God is offended by them, while to accuse ourselves of our sins becomes sweet and pleasant since God is thereby honored. It is a kind of relief for us to inform our physician rightly as to the nature of a disease that torments us. When you kneel before your spiritual director, imagine that you are on Mount Calvary at the feet of Jesus Christ crucified and that his Precious Blood drops down on every side to cleanse away your iniquities. Although it is not the actual Blood of the Savior, what flows so abundantly over penitents in the confessional is the merit of His Blood. Open wide your heart so that you can cast out your sins in confession. As fast as they issue from it the precious merits of Christ’s Passion enter there and fill it with blessings.
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, INTRODUCTION TO THE DEVOUT LIFE
Do not be a Catholic who mindlessly walks up and partakes of the Eucharist towards the end of your Sunday Mass. Be self aware. Be conscious of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do about it. Do not be afraid to receive absolution from a priest for the dark things you have done. After all, Jesus Christ told His priests to carry on this precious, soul-saving sacrament:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
If you go up and take the Eucharist without being in a state of grace, you have committed a grave sacrilege, as you have gone against what we’ve been told to do. Should you die shortly after taking the Eucharist in that state of mortal sin, you will go to Hell. And for what? Putting on airs for the congregation? Wanting to join the party? Do not forget what St. Paul told us from the very beginning:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died”
1 CORINTHIANS 11:27 – 30
Could it be that too many people go up to partake of the Eucharist, when they are not in any condition to do so? Could it be that everyone is irreverently receiving our Lord, and as a result our Lord is allowing the Mass itself to become irreverent? Maybe all of these insanely cringe-worthy Masses are a punishment for the laity’s lack of contrition and flippant abuse of the Eucharist. Is that beyond the realm of possibility?
In writing this, I am reminded of something Ann Barnhardt once penned. She said that the only person at Mass who absolutely must receive the Eucharist is the priest celebrant. So if you are unworthy, and you have not made it to confession yet, stay in your seat, and reflect on just how much you need to reconcile yourself with the Lord. The Mass was not put into place so that you can march up stylishly with every other Catholic in the parish, go up there, and eat a symbol. You are not the center focus of the Mass. Be contrite. Realize humility. Be self-aware. The people of this present age, in particular, are pitiable human beings. This is Lent, a time of ash, sackcloth, meatless and unsavory foods, and covered statues. This is a time for mortification, spring cleaning, perfection, and edification.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can confront the world and its challenges with an honest, unflinching strength. Good luck, everyone.