In a recent class, I asked who had made their First Reconciliation. All my third-grade students raised their hands. But when I asked how many have celebrated Reconciliation since then, the majority of their hands went down. Even though these children are only one year removed from preparing for their First Reconciliation, they still need to learn about Reconciliation and God’s forgiveness. How do we turn a first-time experience into a life-long practice?
I decided to ask the class to share their experiences of the sacrament. It is incredible how much the children really understand the basics of Reconciliation. Talking with them is a great way to see where there might be confusion or misunderstanding. After our initial talk, we did a quick review of why we celebrate Reconciliation and how to do it.
I used an examination of conscience for third graders that my DRE gave me to help the children understand what sin is. As expected, when we got to “You shall not kill,” they looked around with a smile thinking they were safe from having broken that commandment. There were quite a few surprises when I read off questions about being hurtful to other people both in words and actions. Asking them if they haven’t been nice to a brother or sister got a strong reaction.
Then a hand went up in the air. One of the boys asked, “I see it asks if you’ve harmed another person or animal, but what about if you’ve been hunting? That’s harmful to the animal.” What a great and surprising question! I explained that he should ask himself if he hunted the animal in a humane way, used the meat, and disposed of the carcass properly—it would be a sin to kill animals just for fun or to torture them.
Another hand shot up in the air. One of the girls volunteered to tell us about her sins. I used this time to remind the students that their sins and their confession are between them, God, and the priest. They don’t need to discuss their sins with anyone, except maybe with their parents or trusted adults as needed.
I ended the class by asking them to think about their relationship with God with regards to their sins. I had them lay on the floor as quietly as possible—getting a dozen third graders to lay down quietly for any amount of time can be difficult, especially at four in the afternoon. Then I read the Act of Contrition in a quiet, calm voice. On the second time through the prayer, I paused to explain each line to them. This was the moment when they really seemed to understand our need for God’s forgiveness.
We finished our class talking about our personal experiences with Reconciliation, sharing our previous penances and how we felt after absolution. I was reminded how my own daughter explained her feelings about her First Reconciliation.
We spend so much time educating and preparing our young Catholics for their First Reconciliation, but we need to continuing to educate them on the importance of the regular exercise of this healing sacrament. After all, conversion is a life-long process.
How do you encourage your students to engage in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?