Leaving the pharisee to his acts of pride in the Gospel today, let us rather consider the contrition of the publican.
There are two kinds of contrition. Perfect contrition and imperfect contrition. Both are good, even if one of the names has a negative connotation.
Imperfect contrition is the easier of the two, and the more common of the two. It is when we express our sorrow for our sins, but what motivates that sorrow is the fear of punishment.
When the repentant soul has perfect contrition, she does not concern herself as much with whether she will be punished or not. She is motivated by her love of God, and the fact that she has offended the person she loves. Perfect contrition carries with it the intention to confess your sins at the soonest possible convenience, and a firm purpose of amendment.
The Divine Justice is moved to forgive our venial sins when we repent with at least an imperfect act of contrition. When we go to confession, all our sins, both venial and mortal, and all our past sins are forgiven, and imperfect contrition suffices to receive the absolution.
However if we are in a situation when we cannot go to confession, the Divine Justice has deigned to forgive our mortal sins if we make a perfect act of contrition.
We should always strive to make every act of contrition perfect. If we wait until we see the truck crushing the hood of our car, more than likely our fate will motivate us to make an imperfect act of contrition at best. But our well being makes a sorry excuse for repentance. Our sins have offended Our Divine Master and Redeemer. We should be moved to sorrow because we have offended the One Who loves us, rather than letting ourselves and our fate be the motive for our contrition.
Praying for you,
Rev. Fr. J. Fryar FSSP
English-speaking Chaplain of the CSP
(Image above is St. Mary Magdalene by Carlo Dolci, 1670)