I have been thinking a lot about Confession lately. As the First Confession and First Communion catechist at my parish, the past few weeks of class have been focused on mortal and venial sin, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and contrition. It has been a very fruitful time for my hard-working students.
With the assistance of their parents, the children memorized the Act of Contrition. We rehearsed mock confessions so the kids would know what to expect and what to say and our Associate Pastor gave the children a reassuring talk. They even learned Latin: in persona Christi. By the end of the few weeks, I was confident that they were ready for “the real thing.”
When the big evening arrived, my excited class lined up at our designated area. Clutching their copies of the Act of Contrition which I had given them “just in case,” they fidgeted nervously but quietly as they waited their turn. Some of them whispered their concerns as I stood with them and provided moral support.
“Why can’t we go behind the screen? I don’t want him to see me.”
“But what if he thinks I’m a bad person?”
“What if I’m not sure it’s a sin?”
“I’m so scared!”
“What if he remembers what I said and next time he sees me he won’t like me?”
I reassured the kids that it was all right to be nervous about Confession. Some of them were surprised when I pointed out that adults who have regularly been going to confession for many years still feel tense when they confess their sins.
Each of the children in turn knelt before the priest and hesitantly began: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession and these are my sins.” Because they were not inside the confessional, I could see little heads nodding up and down as Father kindly spoke to them. After absolution, the children knelt in front of the tabernacle and prayed their penance. What a beautiful sight to see little children, with hands folded and heads bowed, praying earnestly before Jesus. Before heading home, the students thanked me with beautiful smiles, many of them gave me a hug, whispering their gratitude in my ear.
Reflecting on the evening, it occurred to me that we all have the same “what ifs” as my class. Admitting our sins to a priest, even though he is in persona Christi can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and humiliating. When we take the Sacrament of Reconciliation seriously, we acknowledge the weight of our sinfulness and in humility, we are ashamed and repentant. The humble attitude of a little child is necessary to make a good confession.
In a recent homily, Pope Francis stressed the need for humility in admitting that we are sinners in need of Jesus’ mercy and healing:
He will not find us at the centre of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us. … This is the path of humility: Christian humility is not within the virtue of saying: “I am not important” and hiding our pride. No, Christian humility is telling the truth: “I am a sinner.” Tell the truth: this is our truth.
Often, little children show us what we need to do in order to deepen our relationship with the Lord and the most obvious example is in the Sacrament of Confession. Little children present themselves before God in openness and faith. They are uncertain but they desire to please Him. They are scared but they trust that if they tell the truth all will work out well. They begin their confession nervously but they finish triumphantly, God’s mercy radiant in their beaming smiles. The little children will lead us and like my class, you may feel like hugging someone after you acknowledge your sins before Jesus and receive His forgiveness and mercy.
In the remaining weeks of Lent, many dioceses will have information about times of Confession. Here in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Wednesday, 9 April has been designated as the Day of Confessions. Go (here) for more information on times of Confession throughout the Archdiocese, an Examination of Conscience for adults and youth in English and other languages, videos, and other helpful resources.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Ethiopia: innocent prayers of a young child. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.