This post is part of our Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy series, in which CatholicMom.com contributors will share their own experiences of living the Year of Mercy. Beginning at Pentecost and continuing through the summer, we’ll cover many aspects of the Works of Mercy in family life.
The sacrament of Confession is a powerful source of healing for families. Since my co-author, Emily Jaminet, and I have been sharing the message of mercy in our speaking and writing with Divine Mercy for Moms, our local Catholic radio station asked us to do a show on teaching our kids about mercy and the Sacrament of confession. (You can listen to the whole show here.) As a result, we came up with four ways we’ve been able to help our kids cherish this sacrament and ultimately build an oasis of mercy within our homes.
1. Lead by example. Take your kids to confession frequently – and go with them! Even if I’ve recently gone on my own, I always take advantage of the opportunity to receive the sacrament if I’m taking my children. Doing so shows my kids that I, too, am in need of God’s forgiveness and healing.
Standing in line with your children, especially those who have recently received the sacrament for the first time, opens the door for them to ask you thoughtful questions. Additionally, having you there will likely calm their nerves. As parents, we are responsible for helping our children overcome the difficulty in going to confession and reminding them that the priest is only a screen for Jesus. St. Faustina records Jesus’ words in her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul: “When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here, the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.” (Diary 1602)
2. Teach the mechanics. Even if you frequently go to confession, it’s important to review the “how to” of the sacrament. My kids prefer to have the prayers of the priest as well as their own responses written down to follow along with. I keep a small prayer book like this one or print a “how to go to confession” guide off the Internet. They feel more comfortable having the words in their hands, just in case they get nervous and forget!
It’s also a good idea to make sure your child is familiar with the confession area. Shortly after my oldest received his first reconciliation, I made the mistake of taking him to a new church to receive the sacrament and the confessional was a different layout than the one he was familiar with. Instead of a large, open room that offered face to face or behind the screen interaction, this parish had an old fashioned “box” that was dark and only offered the option of going behind the screen.
My son panicked when he got into the confessional, forgot what he was supposed to say and bolted out in tears. In hindsight, I realize I should have explained to him how different it would be. I also could have gone before him to tell the priest that my son was not used to going to confession this way. The outcome would have been much better!
3. Provide age appropriate examinations of conscience and discuss them ahead of time. Part of our role as parents is to help our children develop their consciences. In addition to an explanation of the mechanics of the sacrament, I like to give my kids an age age appropriate examination of conscience.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about the ‘big’ stuff, especially older kids. There is an ever-increasing risk in today’s world that our senses of sin will become deadened. With pornography, increased sexual misconduct, drinking and drugs so rampant among youth, we need to engage with our children and form their consciences now more than ever. Equally important is the need for us to be with them when they fail and help them confess these sins.
4. Provide opportunities for grace. One thing we like to do as a family is take day trips to religious shrines and go to confession while we’re there. We have met some wonderful priests who have given us great advice while visiting places like the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Consolation Shrine and the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. I have found that when we take advantage of opportunities like this, the priest is likely to have more time to offer advice in the confessional. Such special times are often remembered and cherished.
Going to confession can be daunting to children (and even some adults!) but as parents, we can help our children recognize the gift of this beautiful sacrament. As Pope Francis reminds us, confession is an encounter with Jesus, “whose mercy motivates us to do better.”
What tips to do you have for helping children with this sacrament? What are your favorite resources?
Copyright 2016 Michele Faehnle