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Repentance: Why “I’m sorry” isn’t enough


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 10/28/19

This beautiful prayer from Pope Pius XI will show us what compunction and reparation are all about.

What if you viewed repentance as most view taxes?

People view taxes thus: “I’d really rather not pay taxes at all; I’d like to keep all the wealth that I’ve acquired. But I know that there is going to be an audit, and I do not want to get caught cheating—which will entail a process more painful than paying taxes—so I’ll pay up; but I’ll consult experts and wrangle and haggle so that I can retain the maximum amount of my acquired wealth.”

A very reasonable view of taxes; a poor view of repentance. 

Illustration: “I’d really rather not repent at all; I’d like to keep all the sin that I’ve acquired. But I know that there is going to be an audit, and I do not want to get caught cheating—which will entail a process more painful than repenting—so I’ll repent; but I’ll consult experts and wrangle and haggle so that I can retain the maximum amount of my acquired sin.”

We won’t grow in holiness that way, and God won’t be fooled. I’ve discussed the necessity for repentance as a conversion of one’s whole life (HERE). Now I’ll consider the “before” and “after” of a sacramental confession: “compunction” and “reparation.”

I recall the Imitation of Christ: “I had rather feel compunction than know its definition.”

Theologically, compunction is more than just a sorrow for sin (and certainly more than regretting getting caught and punished!). It’s a sorrow for sin that leads to a detestation of all sin, a sorrow so profound that it moves one to resolve to sin no more. Someone waking up with a hangover might say, “No more tequila for me!” Someone with compunction will say, “I wish never to offend God again!”


Read more:
5 Saints whose lives were changed by ‘The Imitation of Christ’

It’s good that we’re sorry for having made a mess of our lives, sorry for having offended God—so sorry that we resolve to put our lives in order for once and for all. We also have to clean up the mess that we’ve made, insofar as it is in our power to do so. In other words, we have to attend to reparation, or making amends.

Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, (On Reparation to the Sacred Heart), writes:

For if the first and foremost thing in Consecration to the Sacred Heart is this, that the creature’s love should be given in return for the love of the Creator, another thing follows from this at once, namely that to the same uncreated Love, if so be it has been neglected by forgetfulness or violated by offense, some sort of compensation must be rendered for the injury, and this debt is commonly called by the name of reparation. 

On a practical level, we may see reparation as a way of making restitution. When I was a boy, my carelessness resulted in the breaking of a window. I went to the owner and took responsibility for the act and apologized for it. Restitution required that I pay to replace the window I broke.  In fact, the price of the window was beyond my ability to pay. The owner of the window, to his credit, taught me a valuable lesson about justice and mercy. He showed me the bill for the window, to see what my carelessness had cost, and then asked me to repay him the tax on the repair bill.


Read more:
Here’s why you shouldn’t be ashamed of going to confession

How do we make reparation when we have offended God? What can we do when we see that our sin is an offense against Infinite Love? We cannot make good an infinite offense, but we must, in terms of justice and of love, do what we can. Pope Pius XI leaves us with this beautiful prayer or reparation:

And now, to make amends for the outrage offered to the Divine honor, we offer to Thee the same satisfaction which Thou didst once offer to Thy Father on the Cross and which Thou dost continually renew on our altars, we offer this conjoined with the expiations of the Virgin Mother and of all the Saints, and of all pious Christians, promising from our heart that so far as in us lies, with the help of Thy grace, we will make amends for our own past sins, and for the sins of others, and for the neglect of Thy boundless love, by firm faith, by a pure way of life, and by a perfect observance of the Gospel law, especially that of charity; we will also strive with all our strength to prevent injuries being offered to Thee, and gather as many as we can to become Thy followers.

When I write next, I’ll speak of a neglected aspect of the spiritual life. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Timothy O’Donnell

Read more:
A guide to loving the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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