"Big Four" Highlights


Repentant Remorse

The royal road to restoring the soul

By Jason Godin

(This is the third of six columns on making a good confession featured by Fathers for Good during Lent. The first two columns are on cultivating true contrition and reaching for repentance.)

The dictionary defines remorse as deep regret for doing something wrong, a gnawing distress with dimensions of pity and compassion following in its wake. Knowledge of its language lineage – in Latin, remorse is “to bite again” – leaves one also feeling perhaps like he or she has taken a bite out of the Eden apple with Adam and Eve. Today a convincing case could be made that we live in a world without remorse – carefree license elevated over a cared-for liberty, to name just one example, with no regret or sense of wrong, and placing the past not just behind us but out of our minds. 

Remorse over and remembrance of sin, however, are essential ingredients in turning the tide of society and ourselves from mourning in hopelessness and toward a new morning of hope. In How to Make a Good Confession, Father John A. Kane prioritizes repentant remorse as the third step in overcoming sins. When the psalmist proclaims knowledge of transgressions and knowing they’re always before him (cf. Psalms 51:5), Father Kane doesn’t see words for beating oneself up endlessly; rather, he discovers invaluable opportunities for an individual to sense the real seriousness of his sins and to let that reality slowly sink in. Remorse should lead to a search for responsible solutions.

Reconciliation involving remorse is ultimately about saving your eternal soul, and that takes time. Remorse, as Father Kane reminds us, is part of a divine process of refinement by degrees (p. 40). The heights of holiness are reached with hidden steps that ascend silently, slowly, steeply, with deep sorrow. And it’s never an easy path to take. One treads it through the tough trenches of life. It involves waging tiring attacks against unbridled senses. It calls for vigilant humility, and encountering God’s mercy that accompanies you along the way – and awaits you in the end.

Along the way, we come to see how sacramental Confession is a place where, with sincerity, we grant God an opportunity to shine the light of loving forgiveness into our darkest recesses. In a way, it is like our own Good Friday, culminating with the conquering Easter Cross as the “test and measure of success” (p. 46). It measures progress all “along the rugged but royal way of repentance” (p. 51). No wonder Pope Francis calls the Church that administers this merciful forgiveness a “field hospital.”

“The touchstone of remorse is sorrow of soul inspired by the conviction of sin,” observes Father Kane (p. 41). “It is a sorrow which beholds sin with a vivid and unchanging appreciation of its malice, which constantly contemplates the pain and anguish that sin caused the Redeemer, which gazes with fixed vision on the eternal consequences of sin” (pp. 41-42).

Repentant remorse distinguishes sin from sinner. It looks in the mirror and sees a soul both struggling and worth saving. It senses sources of deep, interior disorder and distress. And it recognizes that sweating the soul right again takes courage, knees that bend, and embracing the compassion and consolation of Christ in the confessional.

Jason Godin is managing editor of Fathers for Good