I used to say the end of the prayer like this:
I firmly resolve: with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and to my amend my life.
But I realized that I now do it like this:
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace: to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life.
When I was younger I thought I needed grace to do things. Now I realize that I need the grace to even make a resolution.
The other day I was thinking about this particular prayer again, and how my understanding of what it means to pray it has continued to change. It's fascinating to me how one can pray in the same words over time, but be making a different sort of prayer through them.
When I was younger in the faith the Act of Contrition was like a substitute for the fresh start of going to confession. If I had a desire for Holy Communion, for example, but feared that I might be in a state of mortal sin and had no opportunity for confession, there was the Act of Contrition. To pray it was a fresh start, a new resolution, a renewed commitment. When I said I was sorry, and that my sorrow was true contrition and not just attrition at best, and that I was resolving to sin no more and amend my life, I believed what I prayed to myself. I thought I was telling the truth, and the "act" of the Act of Contrition was simply an external expression of an internal state.
Now, almost eighteen years baptized, I know myself too well for that. I know the infirmity of my resolutions and the fragility of my purposes of amendment. Now when I say the Act of Contrition I'm practicing, I'm telling God what I desire to be. I make an act of contrition, because I know that perfect contrition is what my heart really wants, and I'm trying to teach this to myself.