When I was a child, I loved receiving gifts. What little boy or girl doesn't? But now, as an adult, the thing that brings me greater happiness is seeing my children receive a gift.
Our oldest daughter, Mary, received a tremendous gift a few weeks ago: she made her First Reconciliation.
I have been to the sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) so many times in my life. I always appreciate that feeling of relief, gratitude, and spiritual healing when I leave the confessional. I suppose, however, that familiarity softened the power of the sacrament for me ... I had sadly become accustomed to it. I began to take it for granted that this gift of mercy had been purchased by the price of Christ's blood on the cross.
As Mary bounded up the stairs into the confessional room (she was very excited to be making this sacrament), I knelt and stared at the tabernacle. All I could think was: Lord, you died for her. You suffered excruciating pains, You endured such agonies—for my daughter, my precious child I love so much. Even if she were the only person in the world, You would have done all of that for her. You have given her the greatest gift of all: the opportunity to be home with You forever in heaven. And, Lord, You did it because You love her even more than I.
Immense gratitude flooded my heart. My husband and I might try our best to give our kids a good education, to instill strong morals and virtues, to provide them with a happy and holy home. But we could never give them this: we could never forgive their sins.
That being said, we can foster in their hearts a love of this beautiful sacrament, this opportunity to meet Christ and to receive His forgiveness. We can help them love the gift ... and its Giver.
So here are some of the ways we try to do that in our family. Maybe some of them will be helpful for you, too.
- Practice saying, "I'm sorry" and, "I forgive you" among each other. If our two-year-old pushes her brother, we ask her to say, "I'm sorry." Also important is her brother's, "I forgive you." If I commit a wrong toward one of our children, I try to remember to ask his or her forgiveness—we parents aren't perfect and it's good for our children to see we have the humility to admit we our sometimes wrong, too.
- Lead by example: go to Confession regularly yourself. If you tell your children that Confession is important, but don't avail yourself of the sacrament, they won't believe you. Let your actions show its importance.
- Read about Confession and discuss it together. Mary and I have read A Little Book about Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney together to help prepare her for the sacrament. We both learned so much from that book—I can't recommend it highly enough. It's very gentle in its approach and addresses some concerns and fears children (and parents) might have about Confession. The questions and answers are thorough and engaging. Read it as a family!
- Prepare for Confession every day by making a daily Examination of Conscience. Mary and I do this together at bedtime each night. We keep it very simple. First, we each silently think of one good thing we did that day. Then we think of a sin we committed. Third, we make a resolution about what we could do better the next day. Finally, we pray the Act of Contrition. Doing this each night helps with the daily battle against temptation. It can keep our sins in check and helps us hold ourselves responsible. Also, when we prepare for Confession, we can think back to these nightly Examinations of Conscience and remember the sins we committed.
Ultimately, my husband and I emphasized to Mary that Confession is about meeting her best friend, Jesus, and apologizing to Him for the times she hurt Him through her sins.
St. Teresa of Avila described the soul as a castle where the King, our Lord, dwells. Through Confession, Mary is getting her soul ready, cleaning it and making it beautiful to receive Jesus in her First Holy Communion. As we left the church and headed home, Mary remarked to me, "Confession is where you can take your castle heart and make it stronger so the devil can't get in." All of our castles could use some fortifying.
It's springtime. Does your soul need some spring cleaning, too? Let your children ... and yourself ... receive the incredible gift of Confession.