Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained.--JOHN xx. 23.INTRODUCTION. The words of the text were spoken by our Lord on the evening of the day of the Resurrection. The risen Saviour, appearing to the Apostolic group as they were gathered together behind closed doors, conferred upon them the wondrous power of forgiving and retaining sins. He gave them the faculty, not only to forgive, but also to retain sins, thereby showing that this power was to be exercised with discrimination, dependent upon the dispositions of the sinner. Accordingly the minister of Christ in the Sacrament of Penance is not allowed to give absolution, unless he judges there is contrition on the part of the penitent; and were he to absolve a sinner who had no sorrow for his sins, the absolution would be null and void. Let us meditate, therefore, today on contrition for sins, a most necessary condition for pardon.
I. The meaning of contrition: 1. Contrition is a sorrow and detestation of past sin, with a purpose of sinning no more. 2. Contrition includes two elements: (a) sorrow for the past; (b) a firm resolution of amendment for the future. Hence contrition requires forgiveness of injuries and the purpose of reparation and restitution, as far as necessary and possible, and of the avoidance of the occasions of sin. 3. Contrition is either perfect or imperfect (attrition) according as our sorrow springs from love of God; or from fear of punishment, hatred of sin, or other supernatural motive short of God's love. If one's dispositions are such that he would continue to sin except for the fear of punishment, his contrition is not sufficient for pardon.
II. The qualities of contrition: 1. Contrition must be interior, i.e., it must come from the heart. 2. It must be supernatural, i.e., its motive must spring from something suggested by faith, such as love of God, loss of heaven, and the like; it must not be a merely natural sorrow based on fear of temporal loss or punishment. 3. It must be universal, extending at least to all mortal sins. If only venial sins are confessed, sorrow must be had at least for one of them. 4. Contrition must be sovereign, i.e., the penitent, aside altogether from his sensible feelings, must realize that sin, as being against God, is the greatest of all evils.
III. The importance and efficacy of contrition: 1. An act of perfect contrition obtains pardon for sins at once, even before they are confessed, because it proceeds from love of God, which cannot co-exist with sin. 2. Perfect contrition, however, when there is question of mortal sins, must include the intention of confession, since Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance as the sole means of forgiving grievous sins committed after Baptism.
EXHORTATION, 1. Make frequent examinations of conscience and acts of contrition, especially before going to sleep. 2. Frequently reflect on the motives of sorrow for sin. 3. Make a sincere act of contrition before going to confession, and remember that true contrition always requires a firm purpose of amendment.