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The Act of Contrition in the Gospels

To fully understand the Act of Contrition that is said during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we turn to the Gospels to see Jesus’ pivotal role in this ancient expression of sorrow.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Many Catholics say the Act of Contrition when they go to confession in order to receive the gift of Jesus' forgiveness.  Here we explore a few Gospel passages in which Jesus reveals this aspect of God's mercy.

Jesus heals body and soul                       An Act of Contrition

One of the most incredible gifts that Jesus extended       My God, I am sorry for my sins with all
to his contemporaries was healing in both body                  my heart. In choosing to do wrong
and spirit. He restored the body by curing its ills;                      and failing to do good, I have
He restored the spirit by forgiving the person’s                     sinned against you whom I should 
sins. When Jesus healed the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12;                         love above all things.
Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 517-26), the Pharisees                             I firmly intend, with your help,
rightfully understood the implications of                                 to do penance, to sin no more, 
Jesus’ claim to forgive the man’s sin.                                  and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Only God can forgive sin.                                                       Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and
                                                                                                              died for us. In his name, 
                                                                                                                 my God, have mercy.                                            

Jesus forgives sins

The forgiveness of sins is one of the greatest gifts God revealed to us through Jesus. Two other Gospel accounts provide additional insight into how personal contrition is an important element in asking Jesus to forgive us. Both are found in Luke’s Gospel, sometimes referred to as the Gospel of Mercy. One of these people is Zacchaeus, and the other is the penitent woman who washes and anoints Jesus’ feet. 

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

Zacchaeus is a wealthy tax collector. He has defrauded many. This weighs on him. The first opportunity he gets to see Jesus, he climbs a tree. But it is Jesus who seeks him, finds him up in the tree and invites him to come down. “I must stay at your house”, Jesus says. Zacchaeus is profoundly moved. He manifests his contrition by the concrete action of making restitution four times above what he extorted from others and giving half of his possessions to the poor. After he declares this intention, Jesus reveals that “salvation has come” to him—he is forgiven.

Penitent woman (Luke 7:36-50)

An anonymous woman crashes the dinner party that Simon the Pharisee is offering in his home. Jesus is among the diners. The woman, referred to as a “sinner”, makes a beeline for Him. She falls at His feet, weeping. With her tears she bathes Jesus’ feet, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with ointment she has brought in an alabaster jar. In a parable Jesus tells Simon, we learn that those who are forgiven much show great love. When Jesus tells the woman directly, “Your sins are forgiven”, He teaches us that her faith has saved her.

Two important lessons

What can we learn from these Gospel accounts? The first is that Jesus awaits us. He seeks us when we have sinned. He allows us to approach Him in our own way and when we are ready. Another is that there are as many different ways as manifesting contrition as there are people in need of forgiveness. There is no set formula. The more personal, the better, because the Act of Contrition itself begins to undo the damage caused by the confessed sin,

30 November 2018, 12:00