Charlie's Blog: A Life of Contrition and Penance


A Life of Contrition and Penance

Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight. . .
PSALM 51:4

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent which is the pentiential season leading up to Easter. The ashes smeared on the foreheads of believers are acts of contrition and penance. If one thing strikes me hard this time around, it is the acknowledgement that I should always be contrite and pentitent and not just during Lent.

I am a sinner. I will be one until the day I die. I pray every day that when my death comes that it finds me in a state of grace. The one thing I keep in my mind is that there is a Hell, and I deserve to go there. And unlike certain presumptuous Protestants, I know that I can still go to Hell. There is no "once saved, always saved" in Roman Catholicism.

If I can sum up the Catholic experience, it would be like this. It is a perpetual life of contrition and penance. From prayers to acts of mercy to the examination of conscience to the confessional, the life of a Catholic Christian is lived in such a way to make up and make reparation for the many offenses against our Lord. Contrition is simply owning your sins. Penance is simply trying to live in such a way to show that you are sorry for those sins.

God is merciful and forgiving. But His forgiveness is not cheap. Salvation is not merely being let off the hook. It is to make satisfaction for sin and to also be rescued from sin. This comes from the gift of God's grace. The evangelical Protestant asks, "Are you saved?" My only answer is to say, "Not yet." I hope to be saved. Salvation is a process and not a single act.

I have hope that God will finish the work He has begun in me. He is my only hope because I know what I am without God. May God forgive me for all that I have done.

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.