How many of us have ever seen the movie or read the book, Love Story? It is the 1970 novel and film about a romance between two college students Oliver and Jennifer. In its day, the book sat near the top of the bestseller list and achieve box office success in the cinema. I think the film would fall into the category of a cheesy romance novel adapted for the big screen. I know that some of you might be shocked to hear me say that I have never been into cheesy romance novels.
Yet, nineteen years ago I saw the film as part of freshman orientation. Love Story was filmed in Cambridge, Massachusetts on my alma mater‘s campus, so watching it had become a staple for rising freshmen right before they started hitting the books. One of the most famous and ridiculed lines in movie history comes from this film, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Some people attribute, for reasons that I cannot begin to understand, the ring of truth to to this line. As Christians, we hold a different vision of love. Love means being ready to say you’re sorry when saying you’re sorry is appropriate.
We continue today with part two of a three-part series of homilies on prayer. Last week we talked about why God does not answer our prayers in the way that we would like. After looking at several scriptural passages, we concluded that God does not answer our prayers because He has something better that He would like to give us. We used the helpful acronym ACTS to obtain deeper insight into what exactly that something better might be.
Remember what it stands for? A is for Adoration. C is for Contrition. T is for Thanksgiving. S is for Supplication. Supplication refers to what most people mean by prayer, asking God for something. In fact, the Church defines prayer in less restrictive way as”the raising of the mind and the heart to God.” We tried to crack open some of these less restrictive ways of understanding prayer, starting with thanksgiving last week.
How did we do on praying our rosaries of praise since we last talked? I tried to do it more than I usually do, and I feel like it really helped me on the days that I did during what was for me a pretty stressful week. Let’s try to make this practice a regular part of our spiritual lives!
In this homily, we look at another way of prayer, the way of contrition. We do not use the word contrition much in everyday speech, although for us Catholics we should have some familiarity with it in a specialized religious sense. When we went to confession before we made our first Holy Communion, we all probably learned a version of the act of contrition by heart. The one that I learned goes like this:
O my God, I sorry for my sins with all my heart. I detest my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they have offended you, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to avoid all sin and the near occasion of sin.
Even though I have probably gone to confession around 500 times, chills still go up and down my spine when I say those words when I am receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
What does contrition mean? Literally, the word means crushed, pulverized or ground to dust. When we engage in the way of prayer that is contrition, we make the decision to come before God and admit our sins and sinfulness, humbling ourselves. A great example of such prayer comes in the fifty-first Psalm, specifically the seventeenth verse, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” One of the most moving prayers of contrition in the Bible, which is always acceptable as an act of contrition, is, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Our second reading makes it abundantly clear early Christians possessed a healthy recognition about their need to acknowledge and do battle against their sinful tendencies. This sense of guilt might have become a little exaggerated at different points in the history of the Church, but it is an indispensable part of being a Christian.
Paul tells us in Colossians today that “You must deaden, then, those passions in you which belong to earth: fornication and impurity, lust and evil desire, and that love of money which is an idolatry.” One way to do what Paul is talking about is through a prayer of contrition. Note that I am using a different translation of Colossians, that of Msgr. Knox, not the one that we heard earlier during the readings. Let’s drill into this verse, phrase by phrase.
“You must deaden…” Spiritual writers refer to the practice of mortification or putting to death of our disordered desires. Mortification can take a variety of forms, one of which we will discuss before we finish today. This point is that when we encounter sin in our lives, we must resolve to kill it with God’s help.
“Those passions in you which belong to earth…” Passion refers to a strong desire in us for good things that very easily goes bad if we do not keep very close tabs on it. For example, the desire to eat to maintain one’s body is definitely a good thing, but sometimes we can eat solely for pleasure, which causes damage to our physical and spiritual health.
“…fornication, impurity, lust, evil desire….” We note that four of the five disordered passions Paul names have to do with the sexual passion. The fact Paul zeroes in on sexual sins should not surprise us. Our sexual appetite is almost always the one most prone to exceed what is reasonable. Thus, the Christian writer C.S. Lewis explained that if a young adult male indulged his passion for food as often as he wanted, he might eat twice as much as he should. However, were he able to indulge his sexual passion as frequently as he wanted and with whomever he desired, he might be able to populate a small village in the space of a couple years.
“…and that love of money which is idolatry.” We should never be imprudent about our finances. Yet, we should always be on guard against loving money for the false sense of security and control that it offers us. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Saint Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. When it comes to money, we recognize what Paul also tells us in 1 Timothy 6:7, we came into the world with nothing and we cannot take any of our wealth with us when we die. As a consequence, we practice generosity when it comes to giving away the wealth that God has entrusted to us, especially to the poor and the Church. We also try to live modest lives where we do not spend money on frivolities.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us be brutally honest with each other for a moment. Very few of us are perfect when it comes to how we control our sexual and money-related passions. Even the best of us find ourselves needlessly obsessing about our bank accounts or letting ourselves daydream about the wrong sort of things. What are we to do?
We are to mortify or kill these passions when they pop up with the prayer of contrition. How? There are many ways to do so, but will conclude with just one.
At the end of the day, let’s try to set aside ten minutes as we wind down in the evening, preferably not when we are really sleepy right before going to bed. During this time we can review our day, hour by hour, with Jesus. As we go over what we did throughout the day, we will try to formulate the following sentence, “Jesus and I…” So we would feel very comfortable saying something like “Jesus and I went to work and He was right next to me as I put in an honest day’s work.” But we would certainly not feel comfortable saying, “Jesus and I went to work and He was right next to me when I took a two hour lunch break and smoked a couple joints.” When we find ourselves not being able to start a sentence describing something that we did with the phrase “Jesus and I…,” we have great opportunity to say, ” I am sorry Jesus for abandoning you when I did x.” The really wonderful thing about this ten minute long examination of conscience is that we can also practice thanksgiving when we do it. As in, “Thank you, Jesus, for being right next to me when I did y.”
Loving means saying you’re sorry. In our love relationship with God, we have the opportunity to deepen our relationship with by saying “I’m sorry” daily through an examination of conscience at the end of the day. Let’s give this form of the prayer a try this week. I have practiced it consistently for the last fifteen plus years and have found it extremely helpful in living my Christian life. Next week we conclude the series with a look at the prayer of adoration.