by Elizabeth Ficocelli
The director of religious education at my parish recently made a poignant observation. “First reconciliation seems to have become somewhat of an orphaned sacrament,” she said. “Yet this is the sacrament we should be dressing up for.”
As parents, we have both the responsibility and the blessing of helping our children understand and appreciate this sacrament. What we do with it can greatly affect our child’s spiritual welfare.
The first thing we need to do in the role of parent/educator is to look at our own understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Just what do we personally believe about confession? Do we see it as an intimate interaction with Jesus Christ himself, or do we see it as an embarrassing talk with a man behind a grill? Do we search our hearts and make a contrite confession of sins with a deep desire to change our lives, or do we rattle off the same old litany of offenses? Do we go to reconciliation out of love or obligation? Do we even go?
Our attitudes and actions regarding confession are important indicators as to how our children will perceive this sacrament. It can be helpful to seek out materials that teach about reconciliation and study them from an adult perspective. Then, we need to return to the sacrament ourselves and discover how healthy and freeing it can be.
Many parents mistakenly prepare their child for first reconciliation as if it were a one-time event. This is the wrong approach. Just as we anticipate our children receiving Eucharist regularly once they’ve made their first Communion, we should have the same expectation with confession. It should be an ongoing part of our spiritual development, an important source of grace, nourishment, and growth as we face the inevitable trials and temptations of life.
Let’s look honestly at the subject of forgiveness, which is what reconciliation is all about – receiving God’s freely given mercy and compassion. What have our children learned about forgiveness in our own families? Do they live in an environment in which they feel comfortable admitting when they make bad choices? Are they taught that telling the truth is paramount and that lying about a bad choice is always worse than the bad choice itself? Are they recognized and rewarded for telling the truth, perhaps with lesser consequences? Are they encouraged to ask for forgiveness, and is it given to them mercifully and unconditionally? Are they taught to forgive themselves and others? Do we, as parents, admit our own wrongs and seek forgiveness from our children?
When children are raised with an awareness that everyone, including Mom and Dad, make bad choices, when they are made accountable for their actions with calm, firm and consistent discipline, and when they experience genuine forgiveness and healing between family members, they will be more apt to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with confidence, courage, and even longing. For these children, it’s a natural transition.
Talk to your child often about his or her understanding of penance and answer questions and concerns as they arise. If you don’t know the answer, find a teacher or a priest who can help. Together with your child, choose a priest who can make the experience all the more special, and be sure to make the day a celebration – because it is!
When we exhibit the same energy and enthusiasm about first reconciliation that we do for first communion, we are doubly blessed. My husband and I use the following example with our own children. If we learned that Our Lord and Savior were coming to our home for a visit this afternoon, wouldn’t we first of all want to be there? Wouldn’t we give some thought as to how we are dressed? Perhaps straighten up the house a bit and even prepare a little snack in welcome? After all, we would do at least this much if we knew a friend or relative was dropping by. In a similar way, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the perfect preparation to cleanse and heal us spiritually, making our hearts and souls all the more ready to welcome the most special guest of all: Jesus Christ.
Elizabeth Ficocelli is a Catholic author of fifteen books for adults and young people, a national speaker, and host of the radio program, “Answering the Call.” For more information, please visit www.elizabethficocelli.com
Published in Catholic Parent, March/April 2005