Among my group of seventh graders, I have several who are preparing to receive the Sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Eucharist this year. Because of this, I spent more time in a recent session on Reconciliation talking about the steps of receiving the sacrament than I otherwise would. And that led to a surprising moment of honesty.
Finding God, Grade 7, Session 14 formed the basis of the lesson for the evening, but we also used the Prayers and Practices section for some material on making moral choices and the steps of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I told the young people that God gives us a special gift of healing, and to make the point visually, I held up a gift bag and asked for guesses as to its contents. I selected one of the girls whose birthday was coming up to open the gift, which was a large sheet of paper with the word “Reconciliation” written on it. But for the gift to mean anything, we have to know good choices from bad choices. This led to a brief conversation on conscience.
From there we moved to an Examination of Conscience as a preparation to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We prayed an Act of Contrition together. Next it was time to talk about how to make a good confession. One boy pointed out that he didn’t feel comfortable going to our pastor with his sins because he knew him too well. I told him that was understandable, and he is allowed to go to another priest for the sacrament if that made him feel more comfortable. I also mentioned that some people feel the opposite way, preferring to go to the same priest regularly for the sacrament, because they develop a kind of spiritual friendship with him. I also reminded them of the seal of the confessional, that the priest can’t repeat what they tell him in the sacrament. I told the young people that the priest wants to help them to feel comfortable with the sacrament. They shouldn’t avoid the gift of Reconciliation because of fear of what the priest thinks or fear of forgetting the official steps in the sacrament.
To review what we had learned about how to make a good confession, I set up a game for the young people to end class. Inspired by a blackline master in God’s Gift: Intermediate, I took the steps of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and printed them on large pieces of paper. Each step had one letter underlined. When the steps were ordered correctly, the underlined letters would spell the key phrase: “Coming Home.” I split the large group into three small groups and gave each a set of the steps to place in the proper order; I told them that the first group to successfully identify the phrase and write it on the board would win. We didn’t need a prize for this contest because the competition itself was enough to engage the participants.
While the young people worked, I noticed that one of the boys who was preparing to receive Reconciliation for the first time this year stepped away from his group. I encouraged him to participate actively because he would use this information in a few weeks on the day of his First Reconciliation. He looked at me and admitted that he didn’t think he knew enough about the sacrament yet. I was surprised by his honest admission and tried to reassure him that we were spending that session so he and his classmates would know about the sacrament, and that it’s ok if he didn’t know everything, because we are all still learning. I reminded him that the next week he and the other sacramental candidates would be gathering with the pastor for further learning about Reconciliation. He looked a bit more relaxed at that.
I hope this session reassured both the boys who expressed concerns about receiving Reconciliation and the rest of the group who may have held unexpressed concerns that the forgiveness of Reconciliation is a gift God wants us to receive, and the sacrament is not something to fear. As catechists, we should help people want to experience the sacraments.
How do you help young people understand the gift of Reconciliation?