When I was a new Catholic, I had a tendency to view the cycle of grace and forgiveness in an all-or-nothing fashion. That was very Protestant of me. For a Protestant, one is either “saved” or “lost.” Salvation happens at the moment when one accepts Christ, and then that salvation can never truly be lost — at least in the evangelical conception of things I had before my revolution. One could “backslide” — a state that wasn’t very well defined in my head — but that wasn’t quite the same as the idea of “losing one’s salvation.” In the Catholic view of things, in which the Christian can fall from grace through mortal sin, and only regain it through the Sacrament of Confession — I tended, at first, to suppose, once I’d fallen, that there wasn’t really any point in stopping; that since I couldn’t receive absolution until I could go to confession on Sunday, I might as well “enjoy” my sin until then. It was so much an echo of the way I lived for years as a Protestant: wallowing in my sin until I could return to church and “get saved” again; or worse, for the years I was on the bottom, feeling that, since Jesus had already forgiven my every sin, there was really no point in striving for holiness at all, in making any effort to quit my sin.
But lately something has been remarkably different. Even though I still so often buy into the lie that I “enjoy” it — some part of me does — I realize, when the ecstasy has passed, the error of what I’ve done, and how unhappy it in fact has made me. And I stop. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Because I know I’ve screwed up, and don’t want to screw up anymore. Because I love God with everything I am, and I know my actions have hurt me and disappointed my Savior. And I long for purity, for sanctity. And even though it may yet be a few days until I receive absolution — I have no desire to continue. And even though I might get up in the morning and fall again — I just as well might get up, as I did this past weekend, and stand.
The Church teaches that perfect contrition — the kind that arises from a love for God above all else and a genuine sorrow for one’s sins — not only remits venial sins, but can even obtain forgiveness of mortal sins, if it includes the firm resolution to go to the Sacrament of Confession as soon as possible (CCC 1252). And even if I didn’t know that, I think I could feel it: because when I do feel that true contrition, when I do get up even from my squalor and resolve to stop and to try again — I find a new font of grace beginning to well up in me; the beginnings of my restoration.