God be Merciful to Me
Oct 28, 2019
Often times in the confessional the nervous penitent will freeze up just before they pray the act of contrition. I cannot blame them. Even though we have two different versions of the act of contrition posted in several places within the confessional it can be rather daunting to actually use the phrases of those particular prayers. They are lumbering with words like “heartily”; “I detest”; “I firmly resolve”. They do well in expressing the seriousness of our situation but they are not words that we use in normal conversation.
When the penitent is frozen, I will often refer them to today’s Gospel. It seems to me that the simple proclamation of the tax collector: ”God, be merciful to me, a sinner” as he beats his breast and keeps his eyes turned downward is the most perfect act of contrition I can imagine. As Jesus tells this story he tells us that this man went home justified. The tax collector is aware of his condition before God. Chances are that he will continue to work as a tax collector, the situation in his life is not going to change much, but he knows who he is in front of God, so he asks for mercy.
In the acts of contrition that we teach for the confessional there is a daunting ending in both: in the more traditional version we use the words “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin”; In the recently revised version we “firmly intend with God’s help to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads us to sin”. This sets up a very uncomfortable situation with most penitents. They do wish that they would sin no more, yet chances are they are going to fail over and over again.
This is why I like the tax collectors prayer for mercy so much better. It places the penitent in a precise relationship with God. The sinner acknowledges his need for that which only God can give.