Since then, I have often thought that we could learn from the mistakes people make with the Act of Contrition. Perhaps I should start by saying that the priest who corrected me at least had a point. God does not deserve our sins. That thought reminds us that we have never done anything to “deserve” the love God gives us. His love is a free gift. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He gives us love far beyond what we could ever hope for or expect.
What I have heard frequently comes up at the very beginning in the version I grew up with. We say, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins.” Often, however, it comes out as, “I am hardly sorry for my sins.” I always suspect that may be truer than we’d like to admit. Even when we are forgiven, we still have concupiscence. Concupiscence is a result of Original Sin and of each of our sins. It is the inclination to sin that comes from the attraction to things that are wrong, and it produces our inclination to sin. While we promise to turn away from sin, we know that we are weak and that the temptations that come our way will seem, in some way, good to us. We should never let that feeling keep us from seeking God’s mercy. Even if we are only “hardly” sorry, He will help us to want His mercy more and more.
With many people, the issue is not so much what we say as how we say it. There is a tendency to rush through this prayer, as with most any prayer we say frequently, and lose sight of what we are saying. That is why I like to remind people that we do not need to use just the prayer we memorized in second grade. The ritual book gives several different suggestions for the Act of Contrition, including the very simple, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When I go to Confession, I say the prayer in my own words, and it comes out differently every single time. This is such a personal moment for me that I prefer to pray the Act of Contrition spontaneously.
Despite the serious notes that I have made here, I hope we can get a little smile out of such things as “hardly sorry.” I would like to give you a lighthearted look at Confession to combat the trepidation we sometimes bring to the sacrament. I want everyone to know think of Confession as a joyful experience, without any fear of intimidation, even if someone does get mixed up on the Act of Contrition.