What it Means to have Perfect Sorrow for One’s Sins
and a brief description of the three kinds of sorrow
Perfect contrition is not commonly obtained. It is being in the state of having true sorrow for ones sins from someone’s real detestation (hate) for all of their sins together with a whole-hearted resolve to sin no more (strive for perfection- to become a saint) because they don’t want to offend their beloved Lord by a single sin nor loose their relationship with Him (cf. CCC#1451).
Where as imperfect contrition has the same requirements as perfect contrition, meaning someone must honestly hate all of their sins and sincerely work hard to stop sinning, except the soul with imperfect contrition mostly desires to stop sinning because they fear being punished by God’s justice above desiring to stop wounding their God because they love Him with all of their heart and don’t want to harm Him or loose Him by their offenses.
Perfect contrition: sorrow derived from love of God.
Imperfect contrition: sorrow derived from love of self (not wanting to be punished).
False contrition: sorrow derived from not liking the consequences of ones’ actions, lacking a true hate for them since there is no real resolve to stop offending God either from fear of punishment or fear of hurting/loosing their beloved Lord. Someone with false sorrow might mainly desire to stop sinning because they don’t like how their sins are ruining their and their loved one’s lives…which has nothing to do with loving God or fearing His punishments.They simply want a better life, and that intention for wanting to stop sinning, to stop doing wrong, is no greater than an atheist who works on self improvement.
“[We are] called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
Having perfect contrition can come and go throughout one’s life or even one’s day. It can be weak or strong. However, the grace of having perfect contrition–true sorrow–is one that is not often granted by Our Lord. It is a grace the saints begged God to obtain, “Ah! Lord…Grant me true sorrow for my sins” (St. Alphonsis, Doctor of the Church). It is a sorrow they toiled day and night hoping to obtain, “Do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or by night, that they may attain everlasting blessedness” (St. Anselm, Doctor of the Church). That is because most haven’t grown into a saving faith from honestly hating all of their sins in order to love God with all of their heart, but it is necessary for salvation. Yes, true sorrow is what is needed to embrace God’s saving forgiving mercy. That is why eternal life “there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).
God the Father told St. Catherine of Sienna “For those who desire Eternal Life, a pure love detached from themselves [no self-love] is necessary, for it is not enough for eternal life to fly [away from] sin from fear of punishment [imperfect contrition]…Sin should be abandoned because it is displeasing to me [perfect contrition].”
– Treatise of Discretion
Perfect contrition isn’t easy to acquire yet there isn’t anything complicated one must do to obtain it, but it is delivered by grace from God to a truly sorrowful heart. The mercy that is waiting for someone who is truly sorrowful for all of their offenses is incredible, but we must possess real sorrow to obtain it. The problem is most never want to stop committing some of their sins and wind up, unknown to them, pushing away God’s saving grace.
Someone can “say” an act of perfect contrition, like during confession, but that doesn’t mean their heart is truly sorry for their sins. God doesn’t look at our words we say, but rather He reads our hearts. To have perfect contrition, someone needs an intense sorrow; I’m talking about the kind of sorrow that could cause tears to pour from a person’s eyes, like described in the Bible (see at the end of this article); not tears of bitterness because the person was caught sinning and now feels guilt or had their life ruined by their sins or is despairing over their sins, but tears of great sadness because that person offended God, their very Creator Whom gave them life, Who died for their sins, Who they should truly love with all of their heart. Hurting someone with their sins, especially God, isn’t loving them.
A person who possesses perfect contrition is more concerned about offending God by their sins than anything else. They have a sorrow that “produces a repentance [change] that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). They truly want to live for His will alone. Trying to love God perfectly, is their daily goal and greatest concern. They aren’t scarred to death of sinning, because they know God understands and loves their truly sorrowful heart and loves and forgives those who truly love Him as they try their best to serve Him. As a result, they perform their absolute best effort to come to know, love and serve God at all moments. When they fail, they look for God’s lessons, and repent and make a resolution to stop that sin; they implement changes in their life so they won’t commit that sin again. They fully understand that every moment they don’t try to live for God and try to obey Him perfectly, they are living for the evil one…and that choice wounds their Beloved’s Heart. Therefore they strive for perfection all of the time. Someone who truly loves God doesn’t want to hurt Him at all, ever.
It is requisite [necessary] for the remission [forgiveness] of sin that a man cast away entirely the liking for sin [any sin] (St. Aquanis).
They feel intense remorse for their wrongdoings, even the slightest offense, they chose to commit against their Beloved, Who has been unfathomably merciful and loving towards them. They can’t stand to hurt their God. Daily they examine their conscience and are filled with great sorrow when they contemplate their sinfulness, and how those sins, caused the passion of Christ, reduced their relationship with Him, and hurt God’s most Sacred Heart in Heaven. They strive with all of their ability to “not sin again” (John 8:11). They are literally striving to be a saint because they love God and don’t want to offend Him.
That is what a saint is. A saint is simply a person who did their best in their life to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and atoned (paid the price) for all of their sins. If someone tries to love God with all of their heart, but never atones for all of their sins before their death, by works of mercy and offering up their suffering for their sins, they will still be saved from their desire to love God and true sorrow they possess for their sins.
Everyone who desires to be saved must desire to love God by obeying His commands. “He became the source of eternal life for all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:). We must desire to not wound Our Lord by the smallest sin. We must detest sin. “I detest the smallest sin” (Jesus to St. Faustina’s – Diary #1728). We must desire and work towards being “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is the way to eternal life. But horribly people simply won’t let go of this life to embrace the next and, “scarcely anyone is saved” (St. Alphonsus – The Ways of Salvation and of Perfection)
That is what the Catechism to the Catholic Church #1451 says “Among the penitent’s acts contrition [sorrow]occupies first place [since it is needed for one’s sins to be forgiven for eternal life]. Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin [hate for sin] committed, together with the resolution not to sin again [to strive for perfection].”
This is the way to eternal life; the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches; the way the Word teaches, and the way the saints taught and lived. However, for most there is a great darkness that has been cast over us and is causing a great blindness since the Way has been watered down so much throughout the years, and most don’t know the correct Way nor properly teach what is necessary for eternal life to others which has caused countless lives to be lost forever. People have forgotten we are called to love God.
Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?…You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28).
We need a real belief in God, a saving faith. We can’t simply say we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and that is it. That isn’t a complete faith. We need a saving faith and must prove our faith by loving God. Even the demons have cried out, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Recognizing Jesus as Lord, is simply the beginning of one’s faith conversion, that certainly isn’t the end nor is it a faith that can save. We need a true saving faith, a true saving belief in God…one with perfect contrition.
St. John Fisher sums it up nicely by saying, “All [those] who have embarked [are now living] true contrition [perfect contrition], and penance [are making amends] for their sins they have committed, and are firmly resolved [working hard] to not commit sin again [are striving for perfection] for the future but persevere constantly [continue to work hard] in the pursuit of virtues [God’s grace] which they have now begun [after they truly decided to live for God], all these [who desire to truly love God] became sharers in the holy and eternal sacrifice [are welcomed into heaven].” (Divine Office II pg. 351)
For some, the devil wants us to think eternal life is just too hard to obtain, but it certainly isn’t. The problem is we don’t truly try for perfection. Remember we don’t need to achieve perfection, we just need to really try; to really not want to hurt God by our sins. It is our desire that accepts God’s saving grace, when we trust in God’s mercy through our truly contrite heart. That is all we need to to.
Everyone who wants eternal life will have it. But you must really want it. How much do you want eternal life? Are you willing to surrender every sinful action, every worldly attachment, your entire will to live for God’s will…perhaps you will need to change your entire life to know, love and serve God they way you are called to? Remember we can’t “say” we are sorry, and not really mean it because we aren’t really trying to not sin. In “The Way of Perfection,” St. Theresa of Avial says, “It breaks my heart to see so many souls traveling to perdition [Hell]…You MUST make every effort to free yourselves from even venial sins and follow the greatest possible perfection…EVERYTHING depends on having true light to keep the law of God perfectly.” If you aren’t trying your best to love/obey God perfectly, you are choosing death for yourself. We simply can’t love any sin and still choose God. Our love of sin simply pushes Him away His mercy. This is serious. We must hate sin and love God or all will be lost.
They shall not find Him [go to Heaven] because they will not seek Him through love [perfect contrition] but only through the fear of hell [imperfect contrition]; They will seek God [His forgiveness] without renouncing their affection for sin [love for sin], and hence they shall not find him [because they still love some sins]” (St. Alphonosis – The Ways of Salvation and perfection)
At the hour of our death we must be able to recognize God’s mercy and accept it because we have learned to reject our sins and embrace His love. Even though confession sends us so much grace into our soul and is the most wonderful gift from God to help us eradicate sin so we can even begin to see the correct path to eternal life, we will still need to be able to grow into perfect contrition for eternal life. The state our soul is in after confession isn’t how we will be judged. We will be judged by the state our soul is in when we die and if we still preferring our sin over God, all is lost.
If a soul truly detests all of their sins and works hard to sin no more but is mainly motivated by fear of going to hell (imperfect contrition), they will have their sins forgiven in confession, because God gave the power to His priests to bind and loose sins with either perfect or imperfect contrition (cf. Matthew 18:18; John 20:23). Since imperfect contrition is “fear of the Lord” which is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Proverbs 9:10), God will restore a soul into grace from the sacrament of reconciliation. But if the restoration of their soul into saving grace doesn’t move the penitent (the person confessing their sin) into perfect contrition, then immediately after confession they fall back into the state of death because they were still more concerned with their sins causing harm to themselves (sending them to hell) over being more concerned that their sins offend God. Therefore they still love themselves over God and aren’t saved.
However, someone can receive bounds of actual grace from confession as it is God’s main means to restore a soul to life. Even if a soul doesn’t yet, hate all of their sins nor have a real resolve to sin no more, if they have true sorrow for just one sin, God won’t forgive them, but wonderfully, He will send much actual grace based upon the desires of the penitents heart. And the more frequently someone attends confession, the greater chance they will have to be moved into perfect contrition. That is if they attend confession properly with a true examination of conscience and resolve to one day be able to work towards sinning no more.
To remain in a state constantly united with God (state of grace — saved), even if mortal sin should occur, one must possess perfect contrition since even without words of sorrow for one’s sins being professed from the mouth, or confession to a priest, God who knows the desires of the heart of the sinner, knows how truly sorrowful the person is with perfect contrition and forgiveness is granted instantly from that desire. Even mortal sins the offender has committed but are still blinded to are forgiven and a perpetual state of unity can remain for those with perfect sorrow. Living life in the state of Perfect contrition is the surest way to salvation, even though it is possible, however uncommon, that someone can obtain true sorrow at the hour of their death and be saved, everyone should strive to increase their fire to love God, and to love Him perfectly.
There are three different kinds of sorrow: perfect sorrow (perfect contrition), imperfect sorrow (imperfect contrition), and false sorrow (no true contrition).
Perfect Sorrow: sorrow someone has who hates all of their sins and desires to work hard to stop sinning (to become a saint) because their sins (even the slightest) offends their Creator, Whom they should be loving, obeying and serving with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength and their neighbor as themselves. (most don’t possess this, but need too)
Imperfect Sorrow: is imperfect sorrow because someone is sorry for their sins mostly because they fear God’s just punishments (such as fear of hell or fear of Purgatory or god’s punishments on earth). Someone who has imperfect contrition still must hate all of their sins and desire to work hard to stop sinning (desire to become perfect) like someone with perfect contrition, but they are doing so for selfish reasons, not to love God…which is why it isn’t quite contrition (sorrow). That is why it is called “imperfect.” True Contrition (sorrow) is being sorry because we are hurting God whom we desire to love. Being more concerned about going to hell over hurting God by ones sins, is a grave matter and a form of idolatry (loving one’s self over God) that pushes away God’s saving grace.
False Sorrow: sorrow one feels from being caught or from realizing the destruction their sin is causing or sorrow derived from lying to one’s self (thinking they are sorry when they truly aren’t). There must be a hate for all of one’s sins and there must be the desire to work hard to stop sinning to have either Perfect or Imperfect Contrition (CCC #1451).
For someone with false sorrow, there is no desire to stop sinning all of their sins nor disdain for all of their sin because of fear of the Lord or love of the Lord causing them to commit unrepentant idolatry from their love for their sin (some or all of them) over obedience to God’s commands. However, false sorrow can help to awaken imperfect or perhaps even perfect contrition in a person, but on its own it doesn’t bring about forgiveness—even in the sacrament of reconciliation — but confession can help deliver the grace needed to obtain imperfect or perfect contrition.
Sadly, FALSE SORROW is the most common kind of sorrow — because most tragically most people don’t work hard to sin no more (really hate all of their sins and strive to be perfect for fear of going to hell or the love of God). Or they work hard for one minute, and then it is out the window like a failed diet…it hasn’t become a way of life from a true hate for their sins. That is why the path to heaven is narrow and only “many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able [because they lack saving grace]. Luke 13:23-24
According to St. Theresa, everyone who is willing to die rather than cause another offense against God can say that he truly hates his sins and is ready to die [finally possess contrition in order to be saved]. St. Theresa also says to even consider one’s self a Christian, one needs to daily examine their conscience [so they know the sins they are committing in order to hopefully amend them]. That is how important examining one’s conscience is…we can’t say we don’t want to sin, if we don’t even care to know what our sins are.
He who detests evil he has committed, can be certain of the forgiveness of his sins.
Praise God, for His mercy is waiting for the truly repentant sinner, those who desire to obtain true sorrow for their sins. He wants to forgive everyone. If someone doesn’t possess true sorrow, they can constantly implore God’s great mercy, especially by praying at 3:00pm the hour Jesus died trusting in Him to show them how they need to change in order to receive grace. Also, grace is delivered through the sacrament of reconciliation, attending Mass (but not receiving communion if someone is living with serious mortal sin) and performing works of mercy along with fasting and sacrificing for God. With each act of good will, God will deliver the grace they need, from the desires of their hearts, to truly hate their sins so they can work hard to sin no more for a real hope of eternal life.
EXAMPLES OF PERFECT SORROW
Wonderful examples of perfect contrition can be found in the Bible. For example, the thief who died on the cross next to Christ—he possessed perfect contrition and received perfect forgiveness for his true sorrow, just like one receives in the waters of baptism. Also, the woman who stood behind Our Lord and bathed His feet with her tears gives another wonderful example of perfect sorrow as she was forgiven of her sins too with out confessing with oral words. And of course, our first pope, the apostle Peter, who wept bitterly after denying Our Lord three times also had perfect contrition since he too was forgiven and given much grace to go on and build God’s Church on earth. This is the kind of contrition we must strive for.
People lie to themselves so very often about their sins, justifying all sorts of behavior to continue on in their sinful ways, which causes people to walk blindly in sin. If we can lie to ourselves about our sins, we surely can lie to ourselves about our sorrow too. Even the apostle Peter was absolutely certain he had “perfect” love for Jesus, but Our Lord knew that wasn’t the case and even forewarned Peter. Yet, even with God Himself telling Peter he still refused to look into himself and believe a lie. God told Peter that he’d deny Him three times so when he fell, he could finally “see” his sin and would repent and change. If the blessed apostle Peter could be that blind to the truth, how much more so can we be blinded to it also? We must humble ourselves and truly look into our heart to where we are failing to love God through other perfectly if we are going to have a chance to embrace God’s saving mercy at the hour of our death.
Praise God Peter repented and received abundant grace, and was able to finally prove his “perfect” love for God by sacrificing his life for the sake of the Kingdom–truly loving God with ALL of His heart, soul, mind and strength. Therefore, only God who truly knows our hearts and only He knows if we’re truly love Him and are truly sorry when we fail. Someone suffering from the sin of presumption (assuming they are saved) at the end of their life risks losing everything because they thought they were saved when they should have been “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
If someone goes to confession and says that they’re sorry for their sins, even if the priest says their sins are forgiven, doesn’t mean they are. Since, God does the forgiving, He who reads the heart will know if there are still attachments to our sins. God can’t force grace upon anyone. If we reject it by still not wanting stop committing a single sin, then we won’t receive His forgiving grace.
Many aren’t aware of the damage sin causes their life and simply avoid getting caught sinning or justify their lifestyle in order to avoid feeling guilt over their sins. Nobody can prefer (love) their sins, which is anything someone does that isn’t holy, over God’s divine love without possessing true sorrow for their trespasses. Loving any sin mortal or venial is in fact idolatry and rejects God’s saving grace.
“Know that just as all mortal sins are very serious, so too a venial sin is made mortal if a human being delights in it with the intention of persevering [doesn’t intend to stop].”Jesus to St. Bridget
And since we can’t love both God and sin, false sorrow leads to death (hell). “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24)
Remember, God wants everyone to truly love Him and have perfect contrition so they may be with Him in Heaven for ever. What God did for Peter, He will do for us and instruct us and give us opportunities in our everyday life to know our sins so we to can become aware of our sinfulness and develop perfect sorrow for them. The desire to know one’s sins by an (examination of conscience) is key to developing perfection contrition because how can someone say they are truly sorry for offending God if they don’t even spend time daily to figure out where they have offended Him. If we desire to truly love God and have perfect contrition, we must look to God who will provide us with the love, grace and guidance we need to obtain it.