During Lent we speak of repentance, do we give much thought to the true meaning of repentance? Let’s see what the Curé d’Ars, St. Jean Vianney can tell us:
“Woe is me, for I have sinned so much during my life.”
Thus spoke St. Augustine, when he thought over his past life, which he had spent incessantly in the abominable vice of impurity. As often as the thought occurred to him, his heart was torn and devoured by repentance. “Oh, my Lord,” he exclaimed, “I have lived without loving Thee; oh, my Lord, how many precious years have I lost! Deign, O Lord, I implore Thee, to efface from Thy memory my past faults!”
Oh, precious tears, O salutary contrition, which made of such a great sinner so great a saint! Oh, how quickly does a really contrite heart regain the friendship of God! Ah, would to God that every time we let our sins pass before our mind’s eye, we could say with the repentant St. Augustine: “Ah, woe is me. I have sinned much during my life; have mercy on me, O Lord! ” How soon would we alter our mode of living!
Yes, my brethren, let us all who are here present, confess with the same fervent repentance and sincerity, that we are great sinners who deserve to experience the full wrath of God. And let us praise God’s infinite mercy, who gives us abundantly of His treasures to solace us in our misery. If our sins have been ever so great, and our life has been ever so dissolute, we are sure of His pardon, if we follow the example of the prodigal son and throw ourselves with a contrite heart at the feet of the best of fathers.
Now let me show to you, my Christian friends, that our repentance must have this quality before it can procure for us pardon for our sins: The sinner must, in consequence of his repentance, hate his sins sincerely, and detest them. To make you fully understand what is meant by repentance, that is, the pain which our sins should cause our conscience− I would have to show you on the one hand the abhorrence which the Lord has for them, and the torments which He had to suffer to gain pardon for them from God the Father and, on the other hand, the blessings we lose by committing sin, and the evils which we bring down upon ourselves in the next world; but no man will ever be able to understand this fully.
But you may ask, “What does this word ‘repentance’ mean, and how can we tell whether we have it or not?” . . . Now, if you ask me what repentance is, I tell you that it is an anguish of the soul, and a detestation for past sin, and a firm resolve never to sin again. Yes, my brethren, this is the foremost of all conditions which God makes before pardoning our sins, and it can never be dispensed with.
Without (repentance), it is impossible, absolutely impossible, to obtain forgiveness. Yes, my brethren, I must say with deep regret that the want of repentance is the cause of a great number of sacrilegious Confessions and Communions, and what is still more to be regretted is the circumstance that many do not realize what a sad state they are in, and live and die in it.
Now, my friends, if we had the misfortune to conceal a sin in Confession, this sin is constantly before our eyes like a monster which threatens to devour us, and it causes us to soon go to Confession again, so as to free ourselves from it.
But it is different with repentance; we confess, but our heart does not take part in the accusation which we make against ourselves. We approach the Holy Sacrament with as cold, unfeeling, and indifferent a heart as if performing an indifferent act of no consequence. Thus we live from day to day, from year to year, until we approach death, when we expect to find that we have done something to our credit, only to discover nothing but sacrileges, which we have committed by our Confessions and Communions.
Oh, my God, how many Christians there are who will discover at the hour of their death nothing but invalid Confessions!
But I will not go further into this matter, for fear that I may frighten you, and yet you ought really to be brought to the verge of despair, so that you may stop immediately, and improve your condition right now, instead of waiting until that moment when you will recognize your condition, and when it will be too late to improve it.
But let us continue with our explanation, and you will soon learn, my brethren, whether you had the repentance in all your Confessions, which is so absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sin. I said that repentance is an anguish of soul. It is absolutely necessary that a sinner weep over his sins either in this world or the next. In this world we can wipe out our sins by repentance, but not in the next. We should be very grateful to our dear Lord that the anguish of our soul is sufficient for Him to let it be followed by eternal joy, instead of making us suffer that eternal repentance and those awful tortures which would be our lot in the next life, that is, hell.
The Qualities of True Repentance
It must come from the bottom of the heart. It need not necessarily show itself in tears; they are good and useful, but they are not essential. . . The anguish of soul which God demands of us is like the one of which the prophet says: “Rend your heart and not your garments. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humbled heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”
Why does God require that our heart should feel this anguish? Because it is in the heart where we commit our sins. “It is the heart,” says the Lord, “where all bad thoughts, all sinful desires, originate.” Therefore, if our heart is guilty, the heart must suffer, or God will never forgive us.
It must be supernatural; that means, that the Holy Ghost and not natural causes must call it forth. To be troubled about a sin one has committed because it would exclude us from paradise and lead us into hell, is a supernatural motive, of which the Holy Ghost is the originator, and will lead to true repentance. But to be troubled about a sin because of the shame of which it will be the consequence, or the misfortune it will cause us, that is merely a natural sorrow, which does not merit pardon. It is perfectly plain, then, that the anguish of soul caused by our sins, must arise from our love of God and our fear of His chastisement.
It must be unlimited, that is, the anguish it calls forth must be greater than any other sorrow, as, for instance, at the loss of our parents, or our health, or in general at the loss of anything that is dearest to us in this life. The reason why our sorrow must be so great is because it must be equivalent to the loss it will cause us, and the misfortune it will bring us after our death. Imagine, then, how great an anguish ought to be ours over a sin which deprives us of all the glories of heaven, alienates our dear Lord from us, and casts us into hell, which is the greatest of all misfortunes.
But, you may ask, how are we to know whether we possess this true repentance? Nothing is easier. If you have real repentance, you will neither act, nor think, as you did before, and you will change your mode of life completely; you will hate what you have loved and you will love what you have despised and avoided.
Repentance must be comprehensive. We see in the lives of the saints, in regard to the comprehensiveness of repentance, that we cannot receive pardon for one sin, even if we have properly repented the same, if we do not feel the same repentance for all our sins.
Lord, if it be possible, make the repentance over my sins equal to the offense which I have given you!
Examine yourselves and see how rare is such repentance. Alas, it is as scarce as a good Confession! Yes, my brethren, a Christian who has sinned and wishes to obtain pardon, must be so minded that he would rather suffer the most cruel tortures than fall back into the sin which he has just confessed. And this disposition is obtained by prayer—earnest, fervent prayer. “Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from thy face, and take not thy holy spirit from me,” (Ps. 1. 12)
Joined to this repentance will naturally be a firm resolve not to commit the sin again; and this is the contrite and humbled heart which God will not despise, but receive again as His child, and restore to him all the privileges of a child of God, and heir to the Heavenly Kingdom which I wish you all. Amen.
The excerpts above are from the collection, “Sermons of the Curé of Ars: Sermons for all the Sundays and Feast Days of the Year”, published by KIC. Kindle Edition. It is a treasure trove of wisdom from this amazing saint!
Remember – Our Lady needs us to obey: First Saturdays of Reparation, daily rosary, at least 5 mysteries, wear her brown scapular and live your Total Consecration to her Immaculate Heart, offering daily duties in reparation and for the conversion of poor sinners.
† . Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
† . Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
† . Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
† . St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
† . St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.