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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

On Compunction

I apologize for re-posts, but I have been ill since yesterday a.m.

But, a reader asked for a post on compunction, something I distinctly remember learning about in school from the nuns preparing up for First Confession. Little children love words, and they love big words.

Perhaps one of the best writers on compunction, which is remorse for sin or contrition, is Thomas a Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, another great book for spiritual reading. a Kempis states this below.

One can have imperfect or perfect compunction, which lead to repentance.

I shall make my comments in blue.



If thou wilt make any progress keep thyself in the fear of God, and long not to be too free, but restrain all thy senses under discipline and give not thyself up to senseless mirth. Give thyself to compunction of heart and thou shalt find devotion. Compunction openeth the way for many good things, which dissoluteness is wont quickly to lose. It is wonderful that any man can ever rejoice heartily in this life who considereth and weigheth his banishment, and the manifold dangers which beset his soul.

Since all humans have natural law written on their hearts, remorse is a normal feeling, a reaction to sin. But, many people push down this reaction and ignore it, turning away from the warning of the conscience. Compunction can be "stoked" through meditating on the Four Last Things, death, judgement, hell, and heaven.

2. Through lightness of heart and neglect of our shortcomings we feel not the sorrows of our soul, but often vainly laugh when we have good cause to weep. There is no true liberty nor real joy, save in the fear of God with a good conscience. Happy is he who can cast away every cause of distraction and bring himself to the one purpose of holy compunction. Happy is he who putteth away from him whatsoever may stain or burden his conscience. Strive manfully; custom is overcome by custom. If thou knowest how to let men alone, they will gladly let thee alone to do thine own works.

Interesting that a Kempis writes on real joy coming from a good conscience. Those who no longer allow themselves to be distracted by the world, the flesh and the devil experience a renewed fear of the Lord, a renewed energy and desire to become holy.

One wants to move away from all sin, mortal and venial, for the love of self and the love of God. This type of self-love is good, as one must work for one's own salvation as well as that of others.

a Kempis states, "Strive manfully; custom is overcome by custom." Good habits with prayer and confession drive out bad habits.

3. Busy not thyself with the affairs of others, nor entangle thyself with the business of great men. Keep always thine eye upon thyself first of all, and give advice to thyself specially before all thy dearest friends. If thou hast not the favour of men, be not thereby cast down, but let thy concern be that thou holdest not thyself so well and circumspectly, as becometh a servant of God and a devout monk. It is often better and safer for a man not to have many comforts in this life, especially those which concern the flesh. But that we lack divine comforts or feel them rarely is to our own blame, because we seek not compunction of heart, nor utterly cast away those comforts which are vain and worldly.

Gossip must be set aside, follow your own good words, become a good servant of God not men..all of these things help hone compunction, which is a tool of repentance.

The less comforts of the flesh we have, the better, as our senses will not be deadened or burdened by sin or sinful thoughts. Truly, sins of the flesh make one spiritually sluggish.

St. John of the Cross writes that we should not seek after spiritual comforts, either. One can read this in my posts on him in the two series, perfection and Doctors of the Church.

4. Know thyself to be unworthy of divine consolation, and worthy rather of much tribulation. When a man hath perfect compunction, then all the world is burdensome and bitter to him. A good man will find sufficient cause for mourning and weeping; for whether he considereth himself, or pondereth concerning his neighbour, he knoweth that no man liveth here without tribulation, and the more thoroughly he considereth himself, the more thoroughly he grieveth. Grounds for just grief and inward compunction there are in our sins and vices, wherein we lie so entangled that we are but seldom able to contemplate heavenly things.

More and more, I know that suffering is a gift which tears us away from the world. Perfect compunction, or perfect contrition, actually make worldly things distasteful. Suffering must not be avoided when self-knowledge reveals sin.  In fact, grieving over sin happens fairly constantly in the Dark Night of the Soul. A daily examination of conscience can help one move towards perfect compunction, perfect contrition, which is based on the love for God.

5. If thou thoughtest upon thy death more often than how long thy life should be, thou wouldest doubtless strive more earnestly to improve. And if thou didst seriously consider the future pains of hell, I believe thou wouldest willingly endure toil or pain and fear not discipline. But because these things reach not the heart, and we still love pleasant things, therefore we remain cold and miserably indifferent.

Here it is, as if I anticipated a Kempis' note on contemplating on death and hell-- and the other the Four Last Things.

6. Oftentimes it is from poverty of spirit that the wretched body is so easily led to complain. Pray therefore humbly unto the Lord that He will give thee the spirit of compunction and say in the language of the prophet, Feed me, O Lord, with bread of tears, and give me plenteousness of tears to drink.(1)
(1) Psalm lxxv. 5.

What the author means by poverty of spirit here is a littleness, a smallness of soul, a lack of generosity. When one see one's own sins and can weep, God carves out of our hearts a place for Him to rest.

to be continued...Treatise on the Four Last Things may be found at this site.