“Confession is an act of honesty and courage—an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God,” affirmed St. Pope John Paul II.
Having recently walked with our own two oldest children through the beautiful experience of preparing for their first Confession and Communion, we know how profound the responsibility is as parents. It can be daunting and overwhelming, especially if we had poor catechesis ourselves, to know how to answer our kids’ questions and prepare their hearts for the sacraments.
Catholic Parents Are The “Primary Educators”
Of course there are many wonderful programs and parish leaders doing their best to educate our children today. Thanks be to God! But the Church teaches that we parents are the “primary educators.” When it comes to the faith and especially preparing our kids for receiving their sacraments, we parents bear “the first responsibility for the education of [our] children,” and that “By knowing how to acknowledge [our] own failings to [our] children, parents will be better able to guide and correct” (Catechism #2223).
Our witness, above all, is what matters the most to our kids.
4 Tips For Preparing For First Confession
Here are four simple pieces of advice we’d offer that have worked for us, and might work for you, your family, or someone you might know, whose kids are preparing for their first Confession::
1. Examine Your Own Experience of “Rupture & Repair”
The language of “rupture and repair” has been making its way out of the psychology sphere into popular awareness more and more, with good reason. We are all fallen human persons passing on a flawed example of God’s perfect love. We will all have moments of hurting another with our words, action, or inaction. Most of us either avoid the subsequent conflict at all costs or launch into blaming and projecting undue anger. This is the “rupture,” however big or small.
The “repair” is simply hearing how another has been hurt and offering an apology, promising to be more attentive and do better next time. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). Those two words, “I’m sorry,” is one of the most-difficult phrases for our pride to utter (whether you are age 3 or 83), but what healing words they are indeed.
All easier said than done! But it’s important to be aware of. We will all get it wrong from time to time. What’s our “starting point” of understanding forgiveness? What have been the models of our parents? How might I be applying this to an understanding of God as a loving Father? And how might I be transferring this onto the relationship dynamic with my children?
2. Remind them that the Priest Can’t Tell Anyone.
One of our daughter’s biggest concerns was that the priest was going to turn around and tell everyone at the parish her sins. We gently reminded her of the priest’s vow to never tell another soul what is uttered under the seal of Confession, as well as reminding her that the priest is standing in for the person of Christ—so it’s Jesus who’s receiving and healing our sins!
3. Go as a Family!
We were blessed to be a part of Ascension’s newest sacramental program Renewed and Received, which is a whole-family model of preparing young people for the first Reconciliation and Communion. In the accompanying leader videos designed for catechists and parents, we note that “more is caught than taught”— our kids will see our behavior, attitude, and time given towards Confession as the ultimate measure of whether or not we as the adults truly believe that this sacrament is important or not.
We try as a family to go to Confession once a month and it makes an impression for a child to see their Mom and Dad entering and emerging from the confessional with a smile. (St. John Paul II would supposedly go to Confession once a week–-what the pope had to confess, only God truly knows!) “Monkey see, monkey do,” and our children can sniff out whether or not we take Reconciliation with God seriously.
4. Celebrate afterwards!
We were given this advice from friends and it’s worked great for our kids. Because Reconciliation is a “coming home” to the Father’s merciful love, celebrate it with an offering of ice cream, donuts, or some other reward so that Confession isn’t associated with doom-and-gloom but a spirit of rejoicing! On top of the sacrament’s healing power, our kids know that Confession is not a one-and-done “graduation requirement,” but a regular offering or revisiting the life-giving grace of God.
Our faith is an amazing story of mercy and compassion. God desires for the repair of all ruptures, for us to be reconciled with him fully. He wants this for our children, as well as ourselves. As imperfect as we are as parents, let us bring what we humbly can before his mercy, again and again and again.