Sad therefore happy

Publish date 31-07-2022

by Flaminia Morandi

Do we go to little confession? Does one confess wrongly? Could it not be because the sense of sin has faded? Indeed: the sense of "contrition", which is quite another thing. That is the "crushing" of the heart, this is what the Italian word means, in short, the pain, the sorrow, the regret of having done harm.

The Latins called it penthos, the Greeks catanuxis, which gives the idea of ​​a painful sting with a sharp point like an arrow. In short, a strong emotion that awakens the conscience and makes it resolute to work hard to change.
Sometimes the suffering even causes crying, like that of a child who has been injured.

Origen, the first great theologian of contrition, in the Homily on Jeremiah says that every negative action leaves an indelible trace in the heart and is that trace that will be made public on the day of judgement. He gives such importance to contrition that in another writing, for his interior hygiene, he retraces all the sins he committed to relive the shame as a punishment that is renewed.

It seems to him that his sins are like "an undergrowth of bushes" sprouting in disorder on the ground of his soul; they will have to be burned and it is this vision that makes him tremble as he thinks of divine judgment. Yes, he understands that a similar awareness of the drama of sin is not for everyone, but Origen thinks that without a strong sense of "contrition" he cannot even begin the journey of a Christian life.

This is not a one-off awareness, but "perpetual". Not once, but always. Not just for your own sins, but for everyone's. And he explains why: only humility that comes from the perpetual pain of sin can produce real "fruits of penance", that is, the interior readiness to gladly accept all the trials, difficulties and sufferings of life, in the patient expectation of the mercy of God.

It is interesting that all the Fathers of the first three centuries insisted so much on contrition and the sense of sin: a pessimism that is outdated today? What is like the paralyzing guilt that Christ wants to free us from? Hand!

In Christian theology there is never an either-or between one point of view and the other, but always an et-et that includes and holds spirit, soul and body united in balance. «God, when he erases the sins, he also eliminates the scar. He leaves no trace of it! He restores the whole health and beauty of the soul ", says for example St. John Chrysostom, blatantly contradicting Origen. The "godly sadness" of contrition? Of course!
But the "A side" of him is the "abandoned" joy of a lover of God. Happy, because humble. Happy, because I am selfless.

Flaminia Morandi
NP March 2022

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