One of the duties for spiritual directors or counselors is to help people find forgiveness. Within Catholic circles, this is usually accomplished sacramentally, while in Protestant circles it is accomplished in a more private manner. Regardless, in many cases, the person still may require counseling and need guidance in finding true forgiveness and ultimate healing.
Christian Counselors should look for these four elements
The first element in forgiveness is sincere confession and contrition. One must show a sincere effort not to sin again. This confession may be perfect or imperfect in regards to subjective motivation. Perfect contrition is sorrow for offending God, while imperfect contrition is fear of punishment. Regardless, both are sufficient for forgiveness and salvation, while the first is obviously the most sincere and the one that should be aimed for.
The second element is repentance. One must show a true intent to sin no more and carry out the necessary penance. If one truly attempts to change and alter his or her life, then the grace of the Holy Spirit is truly present in one’s conversion. If the person through human frailty falls back into the sin, then that person is to seek forgiveness again. Repetitious failure should become less and less as the person tries harder each time not to fall. Habitual vice become a huge issue here when counseling. Some moral theologians even contend that if one is trying very hard to escape vice and falls from time to time, then the culpability of the action is even lessened. The key is perseverance and fortitude.
The third element requires restitution. In some cases, especially sins against one’s neighbor, restitution may be necessary. This is especially the case with theft. One who seeks forgiveness must also fix the damage due to sin. Fortunately, in regards to Original Sin and personal sin, Christ has paid that price of restitution for us. In this regard, we bathe ourselves spiritually in the blood of Christ and through Baptism are made anew.
The final element of forgiveness involves forgiving others. As Our Lord commanded us, we are to forgive others if we ourselves are to find forgiveness.
Christian counselors need to help their spiritual children go through these stages of forgiveness and in some cases, reflect on their own spiritual life and see if they need spiritual renewal and forgiveness themselves.
Below is a Catholic prayer after confession. I feel it sums up the major elements of contrition and changing one’s life. I feel this prayer is beneficial to all Christians and not just Catholics alone.
“Oh my God, I am heartly sorry for having offended you because I detest all my sins which I have committed because I dread the lost of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend you my God, who is deserving of all my love, I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.”
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By Mark Moran, MA