When I was growing up, my parents took me to CCD and I made my First Communion in second grade. For some reason, though, in the parish where I grew up, we weren’t required to go to confession beforehand. I wound up moving to a new state a couple years later and when registering for CCD there, they noticed I had not made my reconciliation. We were told to make sure I went as soon as possible. I wasn’t sure what confession was, but it sure sounded serious, and I was immediately nervous.
My dad, a few months later (I think…maybe it was only a few weeks?) took me to a penance service at our parish. As far as I can recall, my only instructions were to tell the priest all the bad things I’d ever done. Given the fact that I didn’t know much about the mechanics of the sacrament (what to say, where to sit/kneel, etc.) and the fact that there were mostly adults present, I got really intimidated. In the end I started crying like a baby and my dad felt sorry for me so we went home. We were going to go some other time.
One thing led to another, and then I was 18 years old, and a freshman in college. On a retreat in the spring semester I finally made my first reconciliation. It was a great experience, but it was also sort of weird. I had known for years that I was in mortal sin, but just didn’t have a very natural way of going about asking my parents to take me to confession, and it wasn’t offered on Sundays, the one day a week I would be there.
That gives some background on why I really want kids going often, and from a young age. I don’t want them to wait so long like I did! But I also think going as a Family is really important, for a host of reasons.
- First, it will show the children that the parents can go to confession, too. In other words, confession isn’t just for kids preparing for sacraments.
- Secondly, it gives parents a good reason to take advantage of a sacrament that the world makes it easy to forget about.
- Third, if the whole family goes on the same day, it definitely is going to create a period of renewal wherein everybody tries to be a bit nicer to each other.
But there’s another level to it. I ask kids in their Communion interviews what kind of traditions they have for major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and, in New Orleans, Mardi Gras). I’m often amazed by how they know the itinerary and the guest list. In their few years of life, doing some things just once a year, they have a veritable script in their mind of what their family does.
I then point out to the parents that these kids have learned these traditions that they only celebrate Once a year because they celebrate these events with their whole family. If the parents can get pro-active, and lead their children to celebrate Christ’s mercy in the sacrament of confession three times as often, how strongly will they remember that experience?
I can’t say for sure, because we didn’t do anything like that at my house growing up, but I have to imagine it would be profound. To realize that even your parents are admitting their faults and that all in the family need God’s mercy, and to do so regularly as a family Has to be profound, because it’s an encounter not just with one another, but with God’s grace.
The last piece of my argument is that if you start this process in second grade, it gives the family 30 times to form a habit before the kid graduates from high school. And I don’t know a single parent who doesn’t like the idea of sending a kid off to college with a well-formed habit of going to confession often.
I ask the parents to aim for three times a year, once in Advent, once in Lent, and once in the summer. These are far apart enough to make use of different liturgical seasons as well as different seasons of the secular calendar, and in both Advent and Lent it’s easy to find penance services. I also think it’s a pretty reasonable time-frame to start with. But, ideally, I think we could push it up to perhaps once every two months or six weeks. On a marriage retreat, the leader recommended what he does for his family: pizza and penance, once a month. They go to the afternoon Mass on Saturday, with confessions before, then go to pizza after and as a special bonus get to sleep in on Sunday! How cool is that?!
So, there’s much more that could be said for this plan, but that’s the basic idea. What do you think?