Originally published on Aleteia, republished with their permission
An essential part of confessing our sins to a priest is contrition of heart. What this means is that we need to be sincerely sorry for our sins.
For many of us, sorrow is not an easy feeling to produce and when we go to confession, we might feel more a sense of obligation than sorrow. In other words, we go to confession not necessarily because we are sorry for what we have done, but because we know we are supposed to go.
While contrition is not restricted to what we’re feeling, and is an act of the will, still it is good to prod our hearts to remember the weight of sin, and how it is a betrayal of God’s goodness.
If feeling sorry for your sins is difficult, try praying Psalm 51. It is a perfect reflection on what is true repentance and is written in the first person. This means that we can make this Psalm our own, saying the words as if we were the author of the Psalm.
The next time you are waiting in line for confession, try praying this Psalm and let it sink within your soul. Then when you go to tell the priest your sins, it will be easier not only to have, but also to feel that true contrition and experience the amazing relief when he says the words of absolution.
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your eyes
So that you are just in your word,
and without reproach in your judgment.
Behold, I was born in guilt,
in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, you desire true sincerity;
and secretly you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
You will let me hear gladness and joy;
the bones you have crushed will rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach the wicked your ways,
that sinners may return to you.
Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God,
and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice.
Lord, you will open my lips;
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.