When Jen and Paul’s oldest child, Thomas, was 7 years old, he was preparing with his class to receive the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time. At a parent meeting led by the director of religious education, several parents expressed mixed feelings about their children receiving the sacrament so young, feeling that talking too much about sin might be infringing on childhood innocence. Several parents wondered if a second-grader was capable of truly sinning.
The next evening at dinner, Jen and Paul talked with Thomas and his siblings about the sacrament of reconciliation.
“We talked about what it means to sin—to damage the bonds of love that connect us with one another and with God—and about how reconciliation restores those bonds and makes them even stronger than they were before,” says Jen. “We talked about how we can’t do this on our own, although we have an important supporting role. Like all of the sacraments, it is a gift that God gives us through his son Jesus and the church.”
As Jen explained this, Thomas’ younger sister, who was only in first grade, blurted out: “That’s not fair! I need this, too!”
Her daughter’s comment crystallized for her what should be the best part of the sacrament of reconciliation. “Instead of being frightened by our sinfulness, or wanting to be in denial about it, she recognized so simply and immediately that she had need for this, too, and wanted this for her own life,” Jen explains. “It was through this moment that I was able to see the sacrament of reconciliation in the right light—with a focus on love, not on sin. And the way to approach it is with joy, not fear. This comment by my 6-year-old has changed the way I myself have gone to reconciliation ever since.”
Reconciliation is arguably the most misunderstood and correspondingly underused sacrament we have. Even the most emotionally healthy Catholics make jokes about Catholic guilt. Movies continue to perpetuate a stereotype of the sacrament that involves the confession of sinister, terrible secrets rather than showing a discussion between a parishioner and a priest about the mundane sins that are a part of everyday life.
Yet as Jen’s story illustrates, when reconciliation is approached in the correct spirit, it can help undo the damage we inflict on one another and strengthen us to love better. What reconciliation needs is a good PR campaign, and maybe a few analogies to help it emerge as the instrument of grace that God intends it to be. If you need to shine up your image of reconciliation, try thinking of it in these three ways:
Reconciliation as a spiritual refresher. We know we were all spiritually washed in baptism, but sometimes we need a reminder of who we are called to be. Just as we splash our faces in the morning to wake us from sleep, reconciliation can be a wake-up call when we’ve been sleepwalking our way through our Christian lives.
Reconciliation as a resource. De-mystify reconciliation by thinking of it as a strong resource that can help you be a better version of yourself. Yes, it’s a sacrament, but if you find that intimidating, take the idea of going to reconciliation off its pedestal and place it on a mental shelf with other things you do to improve yourself. Floss your teeth. Hit the gym. Read the self-help book. Go to reconciliation.
Reconciliation as a dress rehearsal. The reason why the words “I’m sorry” stick in our throats is often because of fear. We may be afraid the person we hurt will not forgive us, or we may be afraid that if we admit our shortcomings, they’ll think worse of us. Reconciliation is an opportunity to say we are sorry for a sin without the person we’ve hurt actually being present. Once we’ve been relieved of our sin in reconciliation, we are often better able to approach the people we’ve hurt to ask their forgiveness as well.
—by Annemarie Scobey from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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