Reflection: How Do I Know When I Am Truly Sorry?
by Father Don Thomas
In the lives of ordinary people, one of the qualities that is most admirable and attractive is that of sincerity. There is something highly commendable about it, even when we may be wrong about something. Wrong, but sincere! Needless to say, when we are correct and at the same time sincere, we become even more admirable in the eyes of others, and also more credible.
In our attempt to understand what it really means, "to be sorry", I would like to steer you, the reader, to another reflection dealing with perfect and imperfect contrition. It is both interesting and important where out spiritual lives are concerned. Try to read it if you find time. As creatures of habit, there are certain expressions we are quick to blurt out and one of them happens to be "I'm sorry". This is particularly true when there is a good chance of "being in or getting into trouble" when we do something wrong. It might be bumping into someone accidentally; it might be dropping a dish or a glass; it might be mistakenly picking up what belongs to another, or perhaps a wrong choice of words or dialing a wrong number on the phone, and "I'm sorry" is out of our mouths automatically, because that's the way we were trained. Whether or not we are sincere is not even questioned in those cases, and I think most people rightfully presume that we are sincere, and that is good.
In this reflection, I would like to deal with "I'm sorry" when it is directed to God after we have sinned against Him. Speaking from personal experience, I feel that most, if not all of us, before we become adults, do not even question whether or not we are sincere when we tell God that we are sorry for "hurting" or "offending " Him. I think it is because we are so innocent or immature; and we almost take it for granted that we are sincere, because in our early years we are dealing with minor or less serious faults or sins against God.
As we get older, however, and learn the difference between serious and less serious sin, between what we call mortal and venial sin, we start to worry about whether or not we should keep going to confession and communion and we begin to question whether or not we are sincere when we tell God "we are sorry' but we go out and keep committing the same sins over and over again. That is when we start questioning the sincerity of our sorrow. We might even hear others talking about similar situations and they say: "if he was really sorry he wouldn't do it again"!!! Hold it right there, because this is where I want to point out something very important about being sorry. Reflecting seriously on this matter, it is really ridiculous to say: "if he is sorry he would not do it again".
If that were the case, stop and think about it. When we were little kids and disobeyed our parents, we told God we were sorry, but does that mean we will never do it again for the rest of our lives? We would never lie again, steal again, say bad words again? Being sorry means that at the time we say we are sorry, we really mean it and do not have plans made to do it again. But being sorry does not exclude the possibility that it may happen again in the future, because no one knows the future and all the circumstances that may cause us to fall again. Think of the situation where a man goes to see the priest or minister about the terrible habit he has of taking the name of Jesus Christ in vain. For an hour the man listens to the counseling, he holds a crucifix in his hands, stares at it and even cries for having offended Christ, and he tells the priest that he will never again take God's name in vain. He is so sincere and determined. He leaves the priest's house feeling great about the help he got, and as he walks though the parking lot toward his car, he sees a guy smashing his car windows and trying to steal the car.
Suddenly he finds himself yelling curse words, taking the name of Christ in vain and screaming on and on. I do not think that guy is a hypocrite at all or that he was not genuinely sorry when he was talking to the priest or minister. He was sincere when he left that office and he had no idea that within five minutes he would be falling into the same old fault or mistake again. That is the story of our lives when you stop to think of it. We fall...we get up...we fall...we get up.
God understands all of this human weakness and simply wants us to keep trying. It would be so different if when we are saying that we are sorry and we have our fingers crossed or we have no intention or desire to avoid the sin in the future. We would not be fooling or kidding God or anyone else except ourselves. That is the worst kind of deception—self-deception. In conclusion, let me say that life is a real struggle—our physical and our spiritual life—and if we are ever in the situation where we cannot say that we are sorry and really mean it, it is better for a time to stay away from confession and communion.
God would think more of us for the honesty that is displayed in making that decision. There is no rule that says we have to go to communion every day or every Sunday. In this whole matter of being sorry, it is all about being honest with God and honest with ourselves. Let's be reasonable about this matter, and not too hard on ourselves.
| Return to Fr. Thomas' Biography Page
Return to The Journals Cover Page