Q - After committing a mortal sin, I desired to go to confession, but am not sure if I have a truly contrite heart. I think this is partly so because I don't have a good idea of what a "contrite heart" is. I know that its a sort of remorse or guilt for sin, but its still a bit hazy. I and want to make a good confession. Is my desire to receive forgiveness enough, even though I am not sure of my honest remorse for sin outside of a fear of hell?
A - Thanks for the question. The first thing I want to tell you is - fear not! God is not a God who wants to accuse you and sentence you to death. He is a father who loves you and calls you to himself. He wants nothing more than a relationship with you. He is pleased with your desire to grow closer to him, to ask forgiveness of your sins and he only wants what is best for you - life.
This is what the Catechism says about contrition:
1451 Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again."Therefore, imperfect contrition is enough to have your sins forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No, it isn't perfect, but it is enough. Perfect contrition arises from love, imperfect from fear of punishment. So, it is a start.
1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.
1453 The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.
1454 The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.
I recommend that you bring this to your confessor the next time you go, in order to hear the words first-hand. God forgives you even in your imperfection - as he does all of us.
There are several reasons that you might not have perfect contrition yet. I don't know your specific circumstances, but it could be due to an attachment to the sin, a misunderstanding of God's love, or another step on the road we are all on to holiness. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to let your confessor/spiritual director know about it.
As is the case with most things in the spiritual life, this is a process and not a one-time decision. Pray and seek out holiness and hatred of sin. Talk about it with your confessor/spiritual director and don't let despair sink in. Hope in God's mercy and love and rest in that. True contrition will come as a gift.
“Only with difficulty does one die for a just person...it is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:7–8