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Making Things Right



About this time in Lent, many years ago as a child, I was being prepared for my First Holy Communion.  The first celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation had to come first, and Sister Michael Mary was teaching us the Act of Contrition.  She explained at length the difference between the “imperfect” Act, which was contrition because of fear of punishment; and the “perfect” Act, which was heartfelt sorrow for one’s sins out of true love for God.  Either form was sufficient for absolution, and Sister encouraged us to strive for perfection. 


I chose to learn the “perfect act” and to me this meant “perfect” in every way:  my contrition must come from the heart, be recited “by heart” (memorized, word by word), pronounced exactly correctly, and every moment of the Act be prayed in conscious love of God.  Otherwise, how could it be perfect?  My mother motivated me by offering me a quarter if I could achieve this, and I practiced.   I practiced night and day, trying to get each word to match the appropriate emotion and image.  “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee…”  You can imagine this for yourself.


"I practiced night and day, trying to get each word to match the appropriate emotion and image."

I finally accomplished my goal and recited, both silently and then aloud, one perfect Act of Contrition.  I got my quarter, and that night, lying in bed with a huge treasure of one quarter in my hand, a thought came to me.  I remembered a mistake.  Or maybe there was a mistake.  I couldn’t sleep.  I really needed that quarter, and I could keep it.  What if?  About 9:30 I gave up the battle.  I woke my mother and told her I had to give the quarter back. 


Mom surprised me.  With gentle humor and love, she told me it was okay.  Keep the quarter.  And get to sleep.  A great weight was lifted off me.  Looking back, I can’t remember any of the sins I brought to my First Confession.  Perhaps my struggle for perfection, with a quarter thrown in, was the real battle.  However, the First Holy Communion which followed was indelibly imprinted in my memory in so much detail.  I will never forget the moment, visually, psychologically and emotionally, when I first received Jesus, really and wholly, and perfectly, for the first time. 


"I will never forget the moment, visually, psychologically and emotionally, when I first received Jesus, really and wholly, and perfectly, for the first time." 

When we confess our sins, however imperfectly, Jesus forgives.  Are we surprised that what bothers us, even our deepest sinfulness, is so easily absolved?  Lent is a time of repentance, in preparation for this coming renewal of our First Holy Communion, our celebration of Easter.  Let us use this time wisely and seek the way of perfection.  In our failures, let us come ever closer to Jesus!   

+Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg

Bishop of Pueblo





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