I think “I’m sorry” are the two hardest
words to say. The words themselves aren’t particularly challenging.
It’s what they represent that proves most difficult.
By saying I’m sorry, I am admitting that I have
fallen short of expectations, that I have hurt someone, that
I have done something wrong. For me, that’s hard to face.
I imagine it is for most people.
I first learned to recite the Act of Contrition
when I was in the second grade preparing for my First Confession.
The prayer I learned at that time was the more traditional
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee” version.
The version contained in this column, however, seems to spell
out more completely what I’m trying to say by reciting the
Regardless of which version I used, I spent quite
a bit of time reciting it for any number of reasons such as
hitting my sister, making fun of someone, lying to my parents,
My mom was a firm believer in the importance of
not only saying “I’m sorry,” but also reflecting on the implications
of what you did. Thus the reason I know the prayer so well!
Perhaps some of the difficulty with saying
“I’m sorry” is pinpointing exactly all that those two words
represent. That’s where the Act of Contrition so often comes
to my rescue.
This prayer fleshes out all the reasons saying
those two words seems so hard—“I am guilty of sin against
you. I have not loved you, my neighbor and myself with my
whole heart. I have not kept your commandments.” Talk about
a reality check!
But the beauty of the prayer is that it also shows
us the way to forgiveness. Through our sins we have separated
ourselves not only from whomever we have wronged, but also
from God. The second half of the prayer focuses on asking
God to help us make amends for our sins.
It’s probably a good idea to offer an Act of Contrition
at least once a day. But some people find it helpful to recite
it even more often than that, and that’s O.K. The bottom line
is to remember why you’re saying it—and mean it.
Each night as I recite this prayer before
drifting off to sleep and once again ask for God’s help and
forgiveness, I am reminded that I am not perfect. I will learn
from my sins and mistakes of today, but will probably fail
in other ways tomorrow. And so the following evening I will
once again ask God for forgiveness and pledge to try to do
better the next day. And so the cycle will continue.
That is the great comfort this prayer brings to
me—that no matter how badly I mess up today, I can always
seek forgiveness and ask for God’s help as I try to do better
tomorrow. All I have to do is ask. The Act of Contrition provides
me with the words to do just that.
Next month: The Angelus