writing our own prayers

The other day, Jack and I were driving along, having an absolutely wonderful time, when the words to the “Act of Contrition” came barreling into my head. Where did that come from?! was my first thought, and then I asked Jack if he remembered it (since he was also raised Catholic). He did not, but  I was made to memorize this “prayer” and repeat it when I did something wrong. I learned it when I was 7, but had not consciously thought about it in years. It goes like this:

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance,and to amend my life. Amen”

Holy mackerel! How many “detestable sins” could I have committed before I was 8 years old?…. The idea that we can feel bad enough; guilty, angry at ourselves, disappointed in our actions, to change, or that we can make another feel bad enough to become good, is an old and a false idea. It represents the worst in religion, education and society.

I cannot do anything about the fact that I was taught to think this way about myself, or my relationship to God, when I was a child, but I can do something about it now. I can re-train my subconscious mind (affirmations again!) to let go of the images of a sinful self (always trying to be good but never quite making it) and of a God that gets offended by my mistakes..let go of the idea that I can somehow miss out on heaven and return to the beautiful words….”the kingdom of heaven is within…within me…within you”.

The Loving God version of the Act of Contrition

“Oh my God, I am heartily grateful for being born in your image and likeness, and I accept all of my ‘sins’ because detesting a thing does not change it, and I love the thought of heaven being found within, and hell being just a state of mind where I have forgotten this, but most of all, I am so grateful that You are Love itself and that I can never be separated from this love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace to love more, forgive myself and others sooner, and enjoy this life. Amen!”

23 thoughts on “writing our own prayers”

  1. I love your beautiful revision of The Act of Contrition! I too was brought up Catholic and spent many years feeling like there was just no way I could be good enough. How different I would have felt if I had been brought up with your rendition of it. It’s been a long journey and quite an adventure, but I have finally come to understand the better version of myself. Thanks sharing your thoughts. You are a beautiful person and make this world a better place.

  2. I can’t thank you enough for the prayer in today’s blog. I’ve spent too many years punishing myself with guilt and sadness for mistakes I’ve made along the way. What a difference it makes to accept our mistakes as part of our story and to practice forgiveness, especially of self. Reading your words is one of the things I do each morning to center my mind and prepare for the day. So thank you for sending along your prayer just when I needed it.

  3. Mary,
    Mary so often after reading your blog I think on the things you have shared for the day – your prayer is so powerful, so meaningful. I was also raised Catholic and even as a very young child never quite felt at home there. Thank you so much for sharing your version of the prayer Act of Contrition…I will print this out and use it…how truly lovely!

  4. This is WONDERFUL! I can SO relate to this, as I was raised Catholic and could never, as a young child, quite get over the feeling that Jesus was right there disapproving of everything I did.

    Now….how do we get this revised Act of Contrition into the hands of all the little kids out there who are feeling what we felt at their age? What a blessing if we could somehow set them straight from the get-go.

    Great post, Mary.

  5. Now I know why my mother stopped taking us to church when I was a little girl. What is it about religion and guilt?

    As I lay in bed last night with the window open after that terrific thunderstorm, I listened to the frogs thrumming away down in the river – and saw in my mind this verdant planet spinning in space. So filled with gratitude that it all knows what it’s doing as we sail along… I don’t know where I’m going with this – but just wanted to add my thought! oxoxo

  6. My rewrite would be:
    Higher Power, who I choose to call God, I regret the shortcomings and character defects that have caused me to hurt myself and others because I dread the loss of serenity and the pain of self-will run riot. But most of all, because I have offended the Universal Power of Love, Grace, and Goodness that breathes in me and others, all animals, and elements of Nature. I have made a decision to turn my life over to your care, to take a fearless & moral inventory of myself ( weaknesses & STRENGTHS), and to make amends to myself and others for all the right reasons. Amen

  7. What a absolutely beautiful prayer! I am a former Catholic and even as a child, I never liked any of the prayers (or much of the teachings) because of all the guilt surrounding sin (and what is “sin”, really?) and the whole “heaven” vs. “hell” concept.

    Thanks, Mary for rewriting a new prayer for our times!

    Peace and blessings,


  8. Mary Muncil and Mary Rita Scott, what beautiful prayers – I know I will be copying, pasting and printing this morning. Yesterday in my yoga class, coincidentally (haha, there’s that word again!) my teacher shared this quote from Meister Eckhart (1260 1327, German theologian, philosopher and mystic)

    “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
    Meister Eckhart

    We truly our loved by a loving God, warts and all!

  9. I wasn’t raised a Catholic but still lived with the guilt and fear of knowing I could never be “good enough” to be “saved”. Knowing that every doubt and question that I had about God would send me straight to Hell was not a comfort. It lifted a great burden when I let go of that. I do honor a higher power but now try to just be the best I can without the guilt trip of knowing I will always be severely judged if I fail.

  10. So many comments from others “brought up” Catholic. I spent years terrified that I was condemned to Hell for very small violations of rules I barely understood. Not eating before communion? Was sand in my mouth during recess eating? Then, going to confession & not mentioning it? (For some reason making up sins to tell in confession never felt like a sin.) And years of guilt for leaving the Church. Pressure from my father for not baptizing my three wonderful, holy children, who he claimed would sadly go to hell. Eight short years ago, the priest at my mother’s funeral did not want to give me communion, because he knew I was no longer a “practicing” Catholic, and I felt guilty and fearful all over again.

    Maybe this is related to the forgiveness posts of a few days ago. We need to forgive the fathers of the church & maybe our actual fathers for brainwashing us!

    Mary, your new act of contrition is perfect. If we say it as many times as we said the old one when we were young, it would certainly create change.

    Love your blog!! And all the commenters.

  11. I was not ‘raised’ as anything or any religion but I got the same message none the less: guilt, fear, shame, unworthiness.
    But after reading Mary’s version of the prayer, I would become an acolyte of her Church of Love forevermore. Amen.

  12. Just wanted to say thank you Mary for the skin balms — they are wonderful! It got here so fast too, a fun surprise. AND I love the container because it screws open and I don’t have to damage my fingers trying to pry the cap off.

  13. I remember being forced to go to confession by the nuns when I was seven, and I had nothing to confess, so I would try to make up things that I imagined were wrong –but not too wrong, to avoid getting the priest annoyed with me. Why would anyone do that to a child? I love your version of Contrition. Much healthier! Thank you.

    1. Oh my gosh yes! I used to have the standard confession, “I fought with my brother and sisters and talked back to my parents”…even when I didn’t …time to move on huh!?

  14. Perfect, Mary! I will enjoy this uplifting prayer — thank you!
    Curiously, I too was reflecting on the original version recently. How little we were encouraged to live as Jesus did, how instead we were taught to memorize countless phrases. (Remember the pages of q&a for Confirmation?)
    And the irony of penance for our second-grade sins — i.e., “punishment” — being PRAYERS! So funny.
    I love your blog and the wonderful comments of this community. Thanks for sharing it with me.

  15. Wow! Former Catholics, unite! Thank you for the reminder of why I chose not to send my son to church, why we do not attend church, and why so many people have to get away from the church to really feel a sense of God.

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