IV -- WHAT EFFECTS DOES PERFECT CONTRITION PRODUCE?
Some truly admirable effects! For the sinner, thanks to perfect contrition, he immediately receives forgiveness for each of his faults even before making his confession. Nevertheless, he must make a resolution to confess himself at an opportune time; of course, this resolution is included in perfect contrition.
Every time he makes an act of perfect contrition, the pains of hell are immediately remitted, he recovers all his past merits, and he turns from being an enemy of God to being His son by adoption and co-heir to heaven.
For the just man, perfect contrition enlarges and strengthens the state of grace. It erases the venial sins he has detested, and increases in him the true and sound love of God. Here are the marvelous effects of divine mercy in the soul of the Christian owing to perfect contrition. Perhaps, they may appear unbelievable to you. Undoubtedly, you think, in danger of death, we should ask for contrition; but is it credible that at every moment perfect contrition produces such effects?
Is this teaching concerning perfect contrition well founded?
I answer you that it is as solid as the rock upon which me Church is built and as certain as the very word of God. At the Council of Trent, the Church, in explaining the chief truths disputed by the heretics, declares (Session xiv, Chap. 4) that perfect contrition, that which proceeds from the love of God, justifies man and reconciles him to God, even before the reception of the sacrament of penance.
Now, the Council nowhere says that this is only in danger of death. Therefore, perfect contrition at all times produces this effect. Besides, in that the Church relies on the words of Jesus: "If anyone love me" - and with perfect contrition we truly love Him - "my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode in him" (St. John 14, 23).
God cannot live in a soul stained by sin. Perfect contrition or the contrition of charity accordingly wipes away sins. Such has always been the teaching of the Church, the holy Fathers, and her doctors: Baius has been condemned for having maintained the contrary.
In fact, if, as we said just now, perfect contrition must have brought forth such admirable effects in the Old Testament, in the era of the law of fear, it will all the more produce these effects in the New Testament, where the law of love reigns.
But then, someone will say, if perfect contrition wipes away sin, what good is it to confess it afterwards? It is true that perfect contrition produces the same effects as confession, but it does not affect them independently of the sacrament of penance, since perfect contrition precisely supposes a firm purpose to confess the same sins that it has just pardoned.
For, to confess all sins, at least the mortal ones, is a law of Jesus Christ and a law that cannot change.
Is it necessary to confess one's sins as soon as possible after the act of contrition?
Very strictly speaking, that is not necessary, but I strongly urge you to do so. You will thus be all the more sure of being forgiven and you will obtain, at the same time, the precious graces attached to the sacrament of penance, those that are called the sacramental graces. Perhaps, now, you will be tempted to say to yourself:
"If it is easy to obtain the remission of sins through perfect contrition, I do not have to trouble myself about confession. I will sin without scruple, and I will be discharged of the debt of sin by an act of perfect contrition!"
Anyone who would think in such a way will not have even a shadow of perfect contrition. He would not love God above everything, since he would not have the
serious desire to break with sin and change his life, the condition required equally by confession and perfect contrition. He could well fool himself, but he could never fool God. He who truly has perfect contrition is entirely resolved to renounce mortal sin. He will cleanse himself as soon as possible in the sacrament of Penance, and, by his good will aided by the grace of God, he will keep himself from sin, and he will strengthen himself more and more in the happy state as a child of God.
Perfect contrition is a great aid for those who loyally and sincerely wish to recover and preserve the state of grace, and especially for those who fall into sin from habit, i.e., who, in spite of their good will, lapse again from time to time owing to their bad habits and their own weakness. It is, however, entirely different for those who use perfect contrition as a means of sinning with impunity: they turn the divine remedy of perfect repentance into a hellish poison.
Don't be among the latter, my dear reader, and don't allow so precious a grace to serve you ill.
FATHER AUGUSTINE LEHMKUHL, S. J.