Contrition, Petition, And Trials

The name of Jesus means ‘God saves‘. The whole purpose of Jesus’ mission is the salvation of souls. When we sin, whether out of habitual weakness or deliberate rebellion, we are acting against God, against truth, and against love. The prayer of contrition is an acknowledgement of our own sinfulness before God, arising out of a careful examination of heart. Contrition opens us up to the reception of God’s mercy through the experience of forgiveness, healing, and conversion. Acknowledging our own sinfulness in the light of Truth is a necessary condition of salvation. “If we say, ‘We are without sin’, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1.8)

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus teaches us the proper disposition of heart in the prayer of contrition: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!‘” (Luke 18.13) Our God is a loving Father, and He will not hesitate to shower the penitent heart with an abundance of mercy and healing grace. We are told that “If we acknowledge our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1 John 1.9) . Contrition purifies our hearts in preparation for prayer, and fosters the necessary growth of the virtue of humility. St. Teresa of Jesus teaches: “humility is the principal virtue which must be practiced by those who pray.” (Way of Perfection 17.1)

The prayer of contrition is an admission of our fundamental need for God and the helplessness we experienced at times when we lived without Him. The prayer of petition is also an acknowledgement of our needs before Him, be they spiritual or material. We bring our neediness before Him, trusting in His mercy and providential care. St. Paul advises us to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Philippians 4.6) It is by our trust and confidence in God’s providence that our anxiety is taken from us, our defenses are lowered, and we are open to work humbly with God in dealing with our needs.

Our confidence in God’s power to address our needs rests on the promise that Jesus gives us: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” (John 14.14) Whatever we ask of God, we should always be careful to present our needs, without insisting on a particular outcome or solution. As St. Teresa teaches, “We do not understand ourselves and know not what we ask, let us leave everything to the Lord, Who knows us better than we know ourselves. True humility consists in our being satisfied with what is given us.” (Way of Perfection, 18.6)

Especially in times of trial, striving to remain steadfast in confidence and humility is crucial. It is important to pray the words of Jesus at Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26.39) We must believe that God holds all of our troubles in His hand, and that He always provides what is best for our salvation, even if it is sometimes not to our human liking. We can take heart in God’s promise conveyed to us by St. Paul: “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10.13) Even in the greatest of trials, we can endure, because God Himself will be our strength.

In trials, indeed we can take heart, when we see them in the perspective of eternity: “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1.6-7)

This poem expresses the role of the prayer of contrition and petition, particularly in the depth of difficult trials.

He Will Provide

The penitent receives mercy;
A contrite heart gets healing grace.
Contrition restores purity
Within the heart – God’s dwelling place.

The pure heart brings its petitions
Before the Lord with confidence:
Regardless of the conditions,
He never fails in providence.

He always provides what is best.
We walk with Him in humble trust,
Knowing He’ll take care of the rest:
He can do all; we are but dust.

Even in deep tribulation,
He holds our troubles in His hand;
He is our strength and salvation –
Before His cross, our hears will stand.

Even in trials, we rejoice;
Eternity is in each choice.

Holy Spirit, hold our hearts fast;
In our trials, please intercede,
That by God’s strength, we’ll be steadfast,
Knowing He provides for each need. Amen.

References:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1846-1851, 2629-2633, 2666, 2734, 2739

(c) Paul Buis, 2005