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What prepares a person for repentance?
The insight into one’s personal guilt produces a longing to better oneself; this is called contrition. We arrive at contrition when we see the contradiction between God’s love and our sin. Then we are full of sorrow for our sins; we resolve to change our life and place all our hope in God’s help.
The reality of sin is often repressed. Some people even think that guilt feelings should be dealt with in a merely psychological way. But genuine guilt feelings are important. It is like driving an automobile: When the speedometer indicates that the speed limit has been exceeded, the speedometer is not responsible, but the driver is. The closer we come to God, who is all light, the clearer our dark sides come to light also. Yet God is not a light that burns but, rather, a light that heals. That is why repentance impels us to go into the Light in which we will be completely healed.
What is penance?
Penance is making restitution or satisfaction for a wrong that has been committed. Penance must not take place exclusively in my head; I must express it in acts of charity and in solidarity with others. One does penance also by praying, fasting, and supporting the poor spiritually and materially.
Penance is often misunderstood. It has nothing to do with low self-esteem or scrupulosity. Penance is not brooding over what a bad person I am. Penance frees and encourages us to make a new start.
Dig Deeper: CCC section (1430-1439)