Saturday, 23 February 2013

Motives for Contrition

The Repentant St. Peter
There are several motives which one could have to be contrite or sorrowful for one's sins, and there is a kind of gradation between them. These are the three main ones that I can think of, off the top of my head; I'll go through them one by one:

1. Fear of one's own imperfection. Although this is not a bad motive, in the right context, by itself it can easily be a result of the sin of pride, which is the excessive or disordered love of one's own excellence. A proud man might indeed seek true virtue, but simply because he wants to be himself a perfect man. When he falls into sin or makes mistakes, he becomes discouraged and distraught, for he now realizes that he is imperfect. His main focus is on himself, and his own perfection and excellence; and this is the prime cause of his sorrow for his sins.

2. Fear of hellfire, and of the loss of salvation. Any man who really believes in heaven and hell must want to go to heaven and not to hell, that's only natural. But if his only reason for doing good and avoiding evil is so that he might be happy in heaven rather than miserable in hell - if the main focus of his motives is on his own happiness - then again, he is being self-centered. When he falls into sin, he becomes sorrowful because he realizes now that he deserves to lose salvation and to be damned in hell, and he fears this greatly. 

3. Love of God, and fear of offending Him. If one's sorrow for one's sins is founded upon charity, a pure love of God for His own sake, and a fear of offending and displeasing Him, then one's sorrow is finally pure, one's contrition is finally perfect; for this is no longer self-centered, but God-centered. And it is interesting to note that this perfect contrition encompasses the other two, but perfects them: for the man who loves God perfectly will fear his own imperfection because he knows that God commanded him to "be perfect" - not simply because he wants to be perfect himself, but because God wants it; and he will fear the loss of his salvation, not so much because he fears to lose his own happiness and salvation, but because he knows that God desires his happiness and salvation for him. Thus, the first two motives of contrition are perfected by the third.

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