Perfect vs. imperfection contrition and a fear of going to Hell

I just committed a mortal sexual sin, and I feel very afraid in case I go to hell. (I am not yet a Catholic but I find the Catholic teaching on salvation compelling.) Afterwards I wasted time on the Internet and put off saying sorry to God and repenting. It was only when it dawned on me that the longer I put it off, the more chance there is that the contrition will be imperfect, that I finally started to pray for forgiveness.

Normally once I’ve confessed a grave sin to God, I don’t feel scared because I am confident that I’m sorry mainly merely because of having sinned against God rather than for the consequences of my soul, but this time is very different. I feel very anxious and scared and I feel like I might have serious trouble sleeping tonight. This in turn doesn’t help me to be perfectly contrite.

However, I do think I have a good understanding of why what I did was wrong. I understand that masturbation is wrong because I am sinning against the body for which Jesus paid the ultimate price, violating and abusing the temple of the Holy Spirit, and presenting the parts of my body, which God created, to the devil for the purpose of sin. There is also C.S. Lewis’ explanation, that it is using your sexuality, the purpose of which is to complete your personality in someone else, purely for your own pleasure. I understand that lust and pornography are sins because you are abusing people and treating them as objects rather than subjects, and perverting the beautiful gift of sexuality, intended to foment unity between husband and wife and to lead to the procreation of children. And you’re committing adultery in your heart. You’re trying to have the pleasure of sex without the effort and cost of lifelong love and commitment towards your spouse and your children.

If I understand, appreciate and truly believe that the sins that I do are wrong, does that mean that I am perfectly contrite even if the fear feels much more intense than the guilt? Is there a difference between feelings and motivation? I suppose mere understanding is not sufficient. Even the devil understands very well why things are wrong; he just doesn’t care. I do care, but that doesn’t mean I care for the right reasons. In the past I think I mostly have.

Another question: Since we have free will, can a person choose to be in a state of perfect contrition, or if you’re in a state of imperfect contrition, is there effectively no way out? When I’m not sure which I’m in, I ask God to bring me to a state of perfect contrition if I’m not already in one, and I try to read the Bible, pray and think deeply about why what I’ve done is wrong so that I will gain that state. But if I’m doing it all out of fear, then that means I’m still in a state of imperfect contrition.

Perfect contrition is sorrow and or regret over sins with the main reason (or at least a main reason, tied with something else, I think) being that you love God. I have a hard time understanding how exactly God is offended since He does not get offended in a human way like getting sad, or angry, but I know that since I love Him and He loves me so much more than I ever could, I know that I always want to be with Him–never parting from Him for a millisecond. (Of course, I still often do, but I try not to and confess when I do.)

If you struggle to have perfect contrition than you can pray for it and reflect upon your love of God. It doesn’t have to be emotional, as we generally cannot control our emotions.

You have expressed interest in becoming Catholic. Are you signed up for an RCIA program? That would be a good way to find out if you really want to be Catholic and if it turns out you do, you can receive the Sacraments. I’m pretty sure that as long as you have been baptized in the the eyes in the Church (and most Christians have been, Catholic or not) and that you DEFINITELY know that you want to be Catholic, than you may confess to a Catholic priest. If you have not been baptized, than you would be baptized at an Easter Vigil Mass and that would wipe away all of the sins currently on your soul and any that you would have accumulated.

God understands that you are not yet Catholic and as of yet cannot receive the Sacraments. If you truly wish to become a Catholic, God knows that too. I will pray for you–for your safety and conversion.

Absolutely not. In fact, to state so is heresy. Attrition and contrition are both graces given to us by God.

We cannot under any circumstances do absolutely anything whatsoever when we are in a state of mortal sin which has any supernatural merit. We can only cooperate with the graces that God gives us to get into a state of grace, and only after that can we merit things.

The normal means of getting into a state of grace is to go to Confession. The extraordinary means is to have perfect contrition which, again, is a grace of having sorrow for sin based in supernatural charity for God. I am of the opinion that having supernatural charity infused by God non-sacramentally is actually quite rare, although I am still researching what the theologians say on this, and so all non-Catholics should do what they can to become Catholic, and to therefore be able to live a fully sacramental life.

On this last point, I’ll quote from the encyclical *Quanto Conficiamur Moerore *:

  1. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.
  1. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom "the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior."[4] The words of Christ are clear enough: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;”[5] “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;”[6] “He who does not believe will be condemned;”[7] “He who does not believe is already condemned;”[8] “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”[9] The Apostle Paul says that such persons are “perverted and self-condemned;”[10] the Prince of the Apostles calls them “false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”[11]

Having a fear of hell does not mean you do not have perfect contrition. You can have a fear of hell in addition to a sorrow for offending the goodness of God.

Imperfect contrition means you are only contrite because of the fear of hell (or the reward of heaven)

If you fear you do not have perfect contrition, then you pray to God that you will be able to make an act of perfect contrition. The Lord will not deny this prayer.

God intends for us to have a perfect trust in Him, while simultaneously having a healthy fear of ourselves.

Reading trustworthy spiritual literature (The Catechism, biographies of the saints, etc.) will strengthen your soul and provide you with a more and more acute conscience that is in conformity with the Divine Will. This spiritual reading, however (as the spiritual literature itself explains) is powerless if not accompanied with prayer. Prayer is 100% essential to any Christian. It even comes before the sacraments ,because it is only through prayer that we have access to the sacraments in good faith and with a clear conscience.

I don’t believe anyone can know with certainty they have made an act of perfect contrition. Simply saying the words is not enough. I wouldn’t bet my immortal soul on it. Best way is to get to Confession as soon as possible because at least there imperfect contrition is enough.

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