By Francis Patrick Donnelly
THE PENITENT HEART
He hath sent Me to heal the contrite of heart.
SORROW for sin is consoling. The fretting of soul because we have not come up to our own expectations is not true sorrow for sin. Sorrow for sin arises in a conviction that we have not come up to God's expectations. Remorse is indeed painful, but then remorse is the clamor of conscience scolding the soul for its failures; it may lead to sorrow for the past, or the rebuke may be silenced by new and repeated excesses. No; true sorrow for sin is consoling. Pride may chafe us because we are not as good as we thought we were; right reason may torture us because we have acted through passion and wrong reason. Sorrow for sin, however, is humble and is submissive and obedient to right reason. Penitence is the healing of the contrite in heart.
When Christ, our Lord, asserted at Nazareth his claim to be the Messias, He said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He hath sent Me to heal the contrite of heart." These words of Isaias which our Lord applied to Himself do not mean that He came to heal the hearts broken and saddened by sin only. "Contrite of heart" includes all broken hearts, although by far the larger number of those who feel the touch of Christ's healing hand are the hearts broken by the weight of sin. The Messias came to console the penitent.
But are not tears the desired accompaniment of sorrow, and are not they the outward sign of desolation? How then can sorrow for sin be consoling? The answer is that tears may exist without penitence, and penitence may exist without tears. The pressure exerted by sorrow for sin is not upon the lachrymal glands, but upon the heart. Agitation of soul may fling off a few tears, as a storm whips the sea into flying flakes of spray, but it calls for a power in the sky mightier than a wind to lift the whole sea landward in a surging tide; and the power of penitence is not to be measured by falling tears, but by the lifting of the heart in response to the grace of God.
Nor are all tears scalding. Who will believe that the tears of Magdalene which fell so fast upon the feet of Christ were signs of desolation, and not rather proof of her abundant love, gushing out with the fulness and refreshing softness of a "long day's raining"? The tears of penitence are rather the overflow of God's grace. As long as the heart clings to sin, refuses to relinquish the hold of unlawful passion, and looks with satisfaction upon the past, so long is there a barrier to God's grace. Let the heart, however, turn from what it before chose, and undo, as far as it can, the past; let it turn to God with an apology —for contrition is an apology of the heart to God —then the barrier is lifted and God's grace rolls in with a cleansing flood, and the pent-up heart finds relief in tears. Magdalene was in desolation, perhaps, as, dry-eyed, she faced the staring guests at the banquet. Magdalene was in consolation when she gazed upon our Lord with tearful eyes. There is a rainbow of hope in every sky looked at through the shower of penitent tears.
St. John Chrysostom has said that sorrow for sin is the only healing sorrow. Tears cannot recall a friend, staunch blood, close a wound, open a grave or cure any other pain or loss, but tears can heal sin. And why? It is because the Heart of Christ put the healing power there, because His love sweetened the bitterness of tears. In the Garden of Olives our Lord made an act of contrition for the sins of mankind. As we all sinned in Adam, we all repented in Christ. He was "made a curse for us." "Him, who knew no sin, He hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in Him." Yet the act of contrition in Christ's Heart does not supply wholly for the act of each soul. The sinner himself must give up his own sin, but, having done so, everything else before and after that act of the sinner's will is the fruit of His grace. It is grace which prompts the act, sustains and elevates the act and blesses its results in time and eternity. Our own freedom must save our souls, as our own food must give sustenance to our bodies, but Christ's love, with more than the completeness and wonder of a mother's love, prepares the food for our wills, made more helpless than, infants by sin. We have but to cooperate with His grace.
Consider the perfection of the contrition found in the Heart of Christ. He could not be touched with sin, but "He was reputed with sinners and upon Him was laid the iniquity of us all," and for all He made reparation and sorrowed, including in His sorrow every quality found in our far weaker contrition.
Contrition should be interior, in the heart. "Rend your hearts, not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God." The rending of the Heart of Christ is witnessed to by a thousand messengers who have hurried out by every way they could to tell us in a language that cannot lie, the language of blood, that the sorrow of sin is crushing His Heart. The rending of His Heart is eloquent in the words in which He voices His contrition: "Not My will but Thine be done." From the will—that is, from the heart—came that act of contrition.
Contrition must be supernatural. God must enter into the sorrow for sin. The Heart of Christ expressly excluded all thought of self, all motives that led away from God. Even the passing of the chalice that God's justice held to His lips was not to be effected by His will. God's will might remove it; His will would not. So then the draining of the chalice was accomplished with the purest unselfishness: "Not My will but Thine be done."
Contrition should be sovereign. Never had a heart to make more fearful reckoning between the worth of* God and the price of sin than the Heart of Christ made, and never was the infinite value of God's law asserted more emphatically. On one hand was the whole Passion to come, with all its tortures of body and soul; on the other hand was God's justice. Christ accepted the sorrow, the suffering, the disgrace and death. He laid His Heart upon the altar of God's justice and was Himself the priest who completed the sovereign holocaust: "Not My will but Thine be done."
Contrition must be universal. Was there a single sin. exempted from God's will? Was there a single wish of God's will that was not embraced by the Heart of Christ? Was there a single pang of pain, a single twinge of sorrow, a single drop of His blood excluded from the generous offer of Christ? There can be only one answer to these questions. The "My" of Christ included all that the "Thy" of the will He addressed included. "Not My will but Thine be done."
It is, then, that great act of contrition which sweetens the chalices of our penitence; it is the signature of Christ's blood which gives value to what would be worthless paper in our soul's sorrow; it is the Heart of Christ which heals the contrite of heart.