“Of course I flushed that fish down the toilet. It gave me the creeps.”
“You told me it died of natural causes!”
“Well, I’m sure it did, eventually. I’m sorry, but I was glad when I didn’t have to look at it anymore.”
When I was five, my mother flushed my pet fish, Swimmy, down the toilet. I didn’t find out until years later, and questioned her about her choices. Mom was sorry I found out, but not sorry for her actions. Swimmy was, in her mind, a creeper that needed to go.
While my mother’s confession came long before the meme, this is a classic example of “sorry not sorry” (#sorrynotsorry). It goes something like, “I did something, maybe it wasn’t the nicest or most appropriate thing to do and I should probably be sorry that I hurt your feelings or am offending your taste, but I’m not sorry for what I did or am doing.”
Other examples may include, “I ignored your text. I was on a great date. #sorrynotsorry” or “Can’t stop playing the new Justin Bieber song. #sorrynotsorry.”
What if I’m not sorry for my sins?
This is also a feeling Catholics may have when approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We know we need to go. Christ gave us this sacrament by which we “obtain pardon from God’s mercy” and are “reconciled with the Church” (CCC 1422). We need to hear those words — “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace!” Yet sometimes, like my mother, we do something and while we know it’s wrong we’re not that sorry. Should we still go to confession?
Enter the beauty of God’s mercy and the Church’s understanding of human nature. We should show contrition, or sorrow, for our sins – but we know that isn’t always the case. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (CCC 1451).
I want to have perfect contrition…
The Church, understanding this about our human nature, clarifies that there are two types of Contrition– perfect and imperfect. When contrition– our sorrow– is “perfect” it is contrition that “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else” (CCC 1452).
In other words, when we’re truly sorry for something because we know that God was offended– truly sorry for, example, flushing a pet fish down the toilet because Baby Jesus wants us to respect his creation and what doesn’t belong to us. We experience immediate remorse and want to remedy the situation as soon as possible.
But we’re imperfect people…
However, the Church teaches that there is also “imperfect” contrition. This is our awareness that what we’ve done offends God– that we should be sorry because we love God and, ultimately, don’t want to go to hell.
The Catechism explains that “such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution” (CCC 1453).
In other words, just entering the confessional and saying the words puts us in a position to receive grace. Taking those first steps– putting ourselves in the physical presence of God and receiving his Sacrament– allows us be forgiven and gives us sacramental grace.
So, even when when we’re not “perfectly” sorry, we should go to the sacrament.
God is not limited by our feelings. His forgiveness is perfect, even when our sorrow is not.