Theory and practice of the confessional by Caspar Erich Schieler, Richard Frederick Clarke
4. The sorrow must be a sorrow surpassing all other sorrow (sovereign, supreme) which shrinks from past sin as a greater evil than any in the world, so that a man is prepared to forego every good and suffer any evil rather than fall into sin again. This sorrow must be supreme appreciative. Yet it is not required that the sensible feeling of pain should be infinitely great or surpassing all other pain; nor is it necessary that the heart should feel more keenly, or be more disturbed, or be more cast down than it would be by some earthly suffering or loss which should appeal more immediately to the sensitive faculties. Thus a man may experience a more intense and lively sorrow for temporal losses, such as the death of a dear friend or relation, and yet his contrition may be appreciatively much greater. Of this he would give ample proof if he were disposed to avoid sin, even though the sin could make good his losses. Hence it is not by the acuteness of the sensible suffering that sorrow for sin must surpass other pain, but by the displeasure at past sin and the determination of the will to endure all kinds of suffering and every temporal calamity and evil rather than consent to a single mortal sin. The sorrow for sin must therefore be appreciatively sovereign, not necessarily intensively so. The intensity makes no change whatever in the substance of an act. Though contrition is usually the. more perfect the more intense it is, yet the intensity ought not to be aimed at, for it would only prepare the way for scruples; moreover, there is no proof that such intensity is necessary.
Though the penitent must have a greater horror of sin than of any other evil, it is not necessary that he should make a deliberate comparison of it with other evils, and make a vivid picture of each particular misfortune, putting to himself the question whether he is ready to endure it in preference to committing sin. Indeed such a course would be highly imprudent and dangerous and likely to destroy the real contrition and purpose of amendment which he had, as well as to excite an inclination for the sin which he detested. Hence when such comparisons obtrude themselves on the mind of the penitent, he should positively reject them and cling to the absolute and unconditional general resolution of never sinning again, helping himself by the reflection that God's grace will never be wanting at the right moment, and resolving with the help of that grace never more to sin.
The question whether the sorrow can ever be excessive is already answered from the foregoing. The sorrow which is of the essence of contrition, i.e. displeasure at our past sins in so far as they are an injury to God, can never be excessive; the greater our love, the greater must be our displeasure, and love cannot be too great. As to the sensible feeling of sorrow which is not at all necessary for true contrition, this should never be carried so far as to interfere with the duty of self-preservation, though as a matter of course there is little occasion to fear that sensible sorrow will go so far. For the sensible sorrow over a spiritual evil is always somewhat remote and cannot easily be so acute as direct physical suffering or as the pain which comes from a misfortune appealing directly to the senses.
As in contrition there is no definite intensity required, neither is any certain duration; for a man may in one moment elicit an act of perfect or imperfect contrition; it may be quite suddenly aroused by divine grace, as in the case of David when he exclaimed in his sorrow, "I have sinned against the Lord," or as in the case of St. Peter, who at one glance of Jesus was melted into bitter tears. The moment contrition becomes actual it is sufficient for absolution. In practice, however, the faithful should be urged to spend some time before confession in rousing a genuine sorrow that will answer all demands, by reflecting with the help of God's grace on the nature of sin and its consequences; moreover, they should be cautioned not to be satisfied with a mechanical repetition of an act of contrition, otherwise the sorrow may be wanting, or at its best be very weak. Yet sorrow is of the highest importance because it is the most essential of the actus pænitentis, the very soul of confession.