Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sin and Contrition, Prayer and Penance

A reading from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers mentions Abba Apollo of Scetis, who had been an “uncouth” shepherd. As such, he had one day been prompted by the devil to kill a pregnant woman in order that he might see the child in her womb. The story continues:

Immediately his heart was troubled, and filled with compunction, he went to Scetis and told the Fathers what he had done… He said, “I am forty years old and I have not made one prayer; and now, if I live another year, I shall not cease to pray God that he may pardon my sins.” In fact, he did not work with his hands but passed all his time in prayer, saying, “I, who as man have sinned, do you, as God, forgive.”

… And he was sure that God had forgiven him all his sins, including the murder of the woman; but for the child’s murder, he was in doubt. Then an old man said to him, “God has forgiven you even the death of the child, but he leaves you in grief because that is good for your soul.”

Elsewhere, I have read that it is good, when making a confession, to sometimes confess again a past grievous sin, in order to achieve a greater degree of contrition for one’s sins. This story seems to illustrate that point.

Also, this story made me think about women who have aborted their babies. It might be easy for them to fall into Satan’s trap of believing that in the case of the murder of a little unborn baby, even God would not be able to forgive that sin. But of course, that is not true. Nevertheless, it is a horrible sin (and I suppose the degree of horrible-ness depends on the willingness of the woman, whether she was coerced in some way, her own degree of ignorance, etc.); therefore, wouldn’t that sin require, perhaps, a greater degree of penance? a greater degree of purging?

If one can endure feeling “unforgiven” but at the same time maintain the intellectual knowledge of God’s endless mercy, doing so would reduce, perhaps, the time in purgatory which might be required in order to be purged of the stain of that particular sin. At least, that seems a reasonable thought to me. I do not know whether it is the correct theological perspective, though.

At any rate, I feel a similar sort of compunction and contrition when I think of the children whose birth I prevented via use of artificial contraception, or the children I may have unknowingly aborted through the same avenue. Sometimes when I think of that sin, and other sins I have committed – which have been confessed – I feel a horror that is painful, and a remorse that is unremitting at least for a time. And I think that what I am likely to experience in purgatory will be a hundred times more intense than that. That’s an incentive to embrace the pain here; that is what could make one say, “If I live another year, I shall not cease to pray God that he may pardon my sin”…and do penance accordingly.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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