We can all think of times when we have fallen short of what we know is right and good — times when we are left with a sick feeling of guilt. Whether we have hurt others, turned away from God, or failed to act when we know the right thing to do, each of us knows well the stories of our shortcomings. Thankfully, a life of faith offers the remedy of forgiveness.
One option is to express sorrow for sin in private prayer. And while this is important, Catholics also have a special way of asking God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of confession. Sometimes also referred to as reconciliation, this is where we speak our sins aloud to God in the presence of the priest. This can be intimidating to do, and fear or embarrassment often keeps many from receiving the sacrament.
But a bit of preparation can give us the confidence to approach confession. One good practice is to examine our lives in prayer and note the times we have fallen short. The most serious of these are what we typically say in confession. Also, it helps to know a version of the prayer we offer after naming our sins. This is called an Act of Contrition, and it helps us express sorrow for our sins and a resolve to change.
The words of such prayers have taken many forms over the years. Here are a few options for when we discover we are in need of some kind of reconciliation with God or our neighbor.
Have mercy on me, God,
in accord with your merciful love.
In your abundant compassion,
blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone have I sinned.
I have done what is evil in your eyes.
You desire true sincerity,
and secretly you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me that I may be pure.
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
You will let me hear gladness and joy;
the bones you have crushed will rejoice.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Act of Contrition
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
To do penance, sin no more,
And avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy. Amen.
Prayer for Forgiveness
Lord Jesus, I come before you today feeling quite low. As I consider my mistakes, the ways I have sinned against you and others, my heart breaks to see my actions in the mirror of my conscience, and I feel lost.
When I remember the love you have for us, it deepens my grief for what I have done, and I wish I could take it all back.
I know the only way is forward, however. To move in that direction, I desperately need your forgiveness. May your mercy wash me of all my sins and cleanse my heart of evil desires. Your willingness to die on the cross provides me confidence that, if I ask to be forgiven, you will give me this gift.
And once I have freedom from my sin, keep me safe from future temptations and strengthen my heart and resolve to choose what is right. Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice that affords me another chance. Amen.