Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
Central idea: Contrition. Doctrine: The act of contrition. Practical application: Acts of contrition.
To view Lectionary 68, click here.
Central idea: Contrition
Reading 1 Jon 3:1-5, 10
The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,”
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.
- There are two kinds of evil. Physical or natural evil is any kind of suffering. Moral evil is sin.
- Those innocent of moral evil can suffer physical evil, but those who commit moral evils always cause suffering in themselves and others. The ultimate suffering that will be the consequence of moral evil is hell, but simply to sin makes one pitiable. This is why Socrates could say it is worse to be unjust than to be the victim of injustice.
- God wants human beings to “repent,” that is, to turn away from their moral evil, from sin.
- In the story of Jonah, to motivate the pagan inhabitants of Nineveh, God’s prophet threatens them with physical evil, that is, with physical destruction, and so, physical suffering: “Nineveh shall be destroyed.” To show they have repented of their moral evil, these pagans voluntarily take on physical evil through fasting and wearing sackcloth. Because they repented of their moral evil, God repented the physical evil he threatened to inflict upon them.
- Fear of the consequences of sin is imperfect but adequate contrition.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
- We are all sinners who need to be guided along the right way. An adequate but imperfect guide for sinners is fear of the consequences of sin. Sin wrecks us in this life and leads us to hell in the next.
- Pride is a foolish deformation of a person’s character because it makes him seem great to himself when he is actually turned away from goodness and headed for destruction.
- Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin out of love for goodness itself. So the other and better guide for sinners is the goodness of God’s moral law and God himself.
- Humility is a wise character strength because it makes a person seem small, weak, and in need of help when it comes to doing good and attaining salvation.
Reading 2 1 Cor 7:29-31
I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
- Because this world is temporary and the world to come is permanent, and our permanent inheritance depends on how we live now with God’s grace, we are wise to have a detachment from the things of this world.
- Detachment does not mean that we don’t love our spouses, that the things that hurt us do not really hurt, that the things that make us happy don’t really give us joy, that we don’t really need physical things, and that these things do not have their own value.
- Detachment does mean that we see all these persons and good things—and the hardships of life—in light of eternity. Marriage, sorrows, joys, material things, and work find their real meaning in the light of Christ. No earthly good—as truly good as these can be—is our final end. No earthly evil—as truly evil as these can be—is the last word either.
Gospel Mk 1:14-20
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.
- Since Jesus Christ is the king of the kingdom of God, wherever he is, the kingdom of God is present. This is why “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Christ is in it but the inhabitants of Galilee have not entered.
- How do people enter the kingdom of God? They do so by repenting of their sins and believing in the gospel, which is the person and message of Christ, the king of the kingdom of God.
- The nature of the kingdom of God is that it is extended person to person. So Christ calls his first apostles, who as his co-workers will call others.
- Eventually, the contours of the kingdom of God will become clearer and we will see the reality of the Church on earth, with her hierarchical structure, her doctrines, and her sacraments.
Doctrine: The act of contrition
- The words of a traditional act of contrition are a good way into understanding the remedy for our sins. Here is the one I was taught as a boy:
O MY GOD, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
- O MY GOD—My act of contrition is addressed not just to the omniscient and omnipotent God but to “my God” with whom I am in a covenant because of my Baptism. God and I belong to each other intimately by his choice irrevocably and my choice which I’m often revoking by my sins.
- I am heartily sorry—Whether or not I “feel” the emotion of sorrow, whether or not I shed tears or have a lump in my throat, my will is that my sorrow is from the core of my being, and in Biblical language, that place is called the heart.
- For having offended Thee— In many cases my “I’m sorry” should be made also to those human beings I have offended. However, my contrition is first addressed to God because my “sin sets itself against God’s love” for me and turns my heart “away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil.” (CCC 1850 quoting Gen 3:5) As St. Augustine put it, sin is “love of oneself even to contempt of God” (CCC 1850).
- And I detest all my sins—Here is the turning away or aversion to sin. The Council of Trent defined contrition as “a sorrow of soul and a hatred of sin committed, with a firm purpose of not sinning in the future.”
- Because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell—This is an expression of imperfect, but sufficient, contrition. Imperfect contrition “arises principally from . . . motives such as loss of heaven, fear of hell, the heinousness of sin” and so on. I see that my ‘love of self to contempt of God’ is an absurd, foolish, and deadly revolt. The inhabitants of Nineveh probably repented out of fear of destruction.
- But most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love—This is perfect contrition. God is both all-good in himself and all-good to me. I am sorry because I have not returned love for love.
- I firmly resolve—Repentance is an act of the will. My repentance is not real if I do not decide to act.
- With the help of Thy grace—Here I acknowledge that even though I choose God again, I need God’s help to make this choice itself and to act on it. Both imperfect and perfect contrition are “a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1453). So, what are these acts?
- To confess my sins—Mortal sins must be confessed as soon as possible according to kind and number. Venial sins and even imperfections that lead to sins may be confessed as well.
- Do penance—I promise to do the (usually) small penance the priest imposes on me. The difference between the offense of sin and the penance imposed is incommensurate, which underlines the goodness and mercy of God. I also live the seasons and days of penance in the liturgical year (CCC 1428) and undertake other forms of interior and exterior penance (CCC 1427-1439).
- And to amend my life—Firm purpose of amendment is necessary for forgiveness. My intention is to never do again what I am sorry for. The fact that I may do it again doesn’t negate my intention. Neither does the knowledge that I am very likely to do it again due to my weakness.
Practical Application: Acts of Contrition
- If we have not already, we should memorize an act of contrition so we always have it with us.
- We can think about what the act of contrition says, because a well-written act of contrition is itself a catechesis on sin and its remedy.
- We can make an act of contrition whenever we need to.
- We can do, with God’s help, what the words say.