Earlier this week, I had the privilege of facilitating the First Reconciliation Parent Meeting at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Evergreen Park, IL, where I served as a catechist for a number of years.
I had been the presenter at this meeting several times in the past, however, I was not comfortable just delivering a talk in the church to the parents who sat passively throughout. I worked with the DRE, Lori Kennedy, to create a different experience which turned out to be very successful. (You may recall that I sent out an S.O.S. about this a few weeks ago…thanks to all who offered such great advice!) Here’s a summary of what transpired:
- First, we moved the meeting from the church to the gym and had folks seated at round tables.
- After a brief opening prayer, I did a short introduction and immediately got people talking to one another, starting with a very non-threatening topic: I asked them to share what their child is going to be dressed as for Halloween.
- After some animated and fun discussion at their tables, we shared a few examples as a large group and then I talked about how, when children put on a costume, they begin to imitate who they are dressed as.
- I then showed a picture of someone putting on a baptismal garment and said that they dressed their children in this “costume” at baptism and that the idea is to imitate Christ…to “put on” Christ each day.
- I explained that the focus for the Sacrament of Reconciliation then (as in all sacraments), begins with paying attention to what God is doing in the lives of their children through this sacrament. In the case of Reconciliation, they can look to the name of their parish – Most Holy Redeemer – to get an idea of what God is doing in this sacrament!
- To explain the notion of being redeemed, I showed a picture of the Chicago Bears who lost miserably the week before and said, “you know what I mean when I say that the Bears need to redeem themselves this week!” To redeem is to restore to one’s proper place. The difference in Reconciliation is that we don’t redeem ourselves…we are redeemed by Christ.
- I then talked about what happens when we encounter Christ, the Redeemer, and used the story of Zacchaeus to illustrate how, when we encounter the Redeemer and his wonderful mercy, we become hyper-aware of our own imperfections.
- I then had them chat at their tables for a few minutes about who they would go out of their way to make a big fuss over if this person were to come to dinner. Again, after a few minutes of lively and fun chatting, we talked about movie stars, celebrities, athletes, music stars, and so on, and how, if they were to visit us, we would go out of our way to “clean up.”
- I used that as an opportunity to talk about how we prepare for encountering our Redeemer in Reconciliation…we become aware of our shortcomings and seek to overcome them. I made reference to the movie As Good As It Gets and the famous line from Jack Nicholson to Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.”
- I talked about examination of conscience, an understanding of sin (especially distinguishing sin from accidents/mistakes), and the concepts of serious matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent, emphasizing that most children at that age are incapable of mortal sin but are unfortunately mastering the “art” of venial sin which can have an eroding effect on our relationship with God and neighbor.
- Finally, we addressed the reason we Catholics go to a priest for forgiveness. I had them chat one more time at their tables about the most meaningful gift they ever received from a spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend. Again, they had lively conversations, and then I explained that we humans seek to express ourselves in tangible ways and that the same holds true for expressing sorrow: try to be sorry without actually saying the words “I’m sorry” to someone you love…good luck with that!
- I talked about the need to name the sin and invoked the wisdom of Twelve Step programs that insist on the same thing as a pre-requisite to healing. I then went over the four ingredients of the Sacrament of Reconciliation: contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution.
In all, the “meeting” (let’s stop calling them meetings) or the session lasted an hour and the time flew by, especially because we divided the presentation into three 20-minute segments each beginning with sharing at the tables. I realize that the sharing questions I gave them were not very deep but this is the first time these folks were being asked to sit and talk to one another in a faith setting and I wanted to establish a level of comfort which they can do by simply talking about their kids and their families. Lori and I agreed that the spirit in the group was wonderful and they seemed engaged and very positive about this sacramental journey they are on with their children.
Here is a pic of the folks engaged in lively conversation at their tables. Sorry I can’t share my PowerPoint…lots of images that I do not have permissions to share widely!