My son is making his first Communion this year. A few months ago, we were getting ready for bed, and I reminded Jeremiah that we would begin studying and preparing for this which includes his first Reconciliation. This hilarious (but true) conversation followed.
Gabriel (older brother): “Confession is scary.”
Jeremiah: “What? Why?”
Gabriel: “You have to go in this room and tell the priest all the bad things you’ve done.”
Jeremiah: “Like what?”
Gabriel: “Like when you’ve gotten mad or frustrated for no reason, when we don’t listen, when we break rules …”
Jeremiah: “Does Mom go in there with you?”
Jeremiah: “That’s not scary at all!”
It took another month for me to get Gabriel to tell us why he thinks confession is scary. He told me that he was worried that the priest would “look” at him differently. We are friends with a lot of the priests that hear our confessions, and he expressed what I think a lot of adults feel sometimes, too.
So I went to cyberspace to ask some virtual priest friends for advice. What do I tell my kid when he fears confession because of what the priest may think of them? I’ll share their responses at the end of this article, but I learned one thing: Love is nothing to be afraid of.
That’s what is offered in the confessional. It’s love in the form of absolution, forgiveness, and redemption. I’m not sure where that message got lost with our first born, but we wanted to tackle it differently with our second born.
The night of his first confession, we sat on my bed and talked more about what was about to happen. I took out a sheet of paper and pencil, drawing a large heart.
“This heart is like your heart. This is the natural state of your heart. Open, pure. When we sin, when we choose to not be a gift to others, when we choose something other than God, we mar this heart.”
I took my pencil and made some dots all over the heart.
“But then, with confession, Jesus, through the priest, offers you love. He returns our heart back to its natural state through absolution which is the forgiveness of your sins.”
I used the pencil to erase all of the dots that I had previously created. And, Jeremiah’s eyes lit up: “WHAT? THAT HAPPENS EVERY TIME?”
That night, he went to confession, and on the way home, our conversation got even deeper. He asked if there would be a day that he would go into confession and have nothing to confess. My heart was a bit heavy as I responded, “No, buddy.”
I went on to explain that as he moves past various sins, he will uncover even deeper ones. It sounds like such a hard conversation to have with a 7-year-old but he understood. I returned to the analogy of the pencil-drawn heart. When the hole is healed and you find freedom from a particular sin, it will always uncover something deeper. There’s always a deeper level of holiness, more depth to the love of God, and more freedom offered by His love.
When we got home, he ran inside to tell his Dad about the night. His expression was somber, and right before bed, I asked if he was okay.
Jeremiah’s response is very much like all of ours. Our conversations lead him to reflect and when he was laying on his pillow that night, his response was, “Mom, there’s a lot to do with my heart.”
Here’s a compilation from some of the priest’s responses to the question “What do I tell my son who is scared that priests will look at him differently after hearing his confession?” I included their Twitter handles (other platforms are noted) in case you’d like to enrich your timeline:
“Your sins aren’t important enough for us to remember them.” – @FrHarrison
“There’s nothing you can say in confession to make us love you less, because you can’t make God love you less.” @FrTimGrumbach
“Every sin confessed is a sin repented of and forgiven. The only shameful thing is not to repent of sin. I have the utmost respect for everyone who confesses their sins. It doesn’t matter what they were. They’re history.” @frajds
“If we remember at all, we will likely think him a better person for having the courage and humility to be a man and seek God’s mercy and guidance.” @frobrien
“We have been given the grace of bad memories … most of the time we simply forget … For me, it is super humbling when a person who knows me comes to confession to me, especially a young person. I have given my life so that each one of them can taste the freedom of God’s grace. When someone trusts me enough to let me be the agent of reconciliation – nothing could be better.”@frdavidkeegan (Instagram)
“Sin is boring. Too boring to remember really.” @frmbernhard
Copyright 2020 Rachel M. Bulman