In a recent lesson on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, my fourth graders once again surprised me with their questions. After teaching and discussing the sacrament, our discussion turned toward how much God loves us. After all, God gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so we could be healed and know that he will always forgive us. Understanding God’s unconditional love and mercy for us is always one of my top themes with students.
A couple of boys started talking amongst themselves. When I asked them what they were talking about, they stopped. I asked them again, and they told me: “What would a priest do if you went in there and confessed to murder?”
I turned the question around on them. “What do you think the priest would do?” Most of them said that he should call the police. I told them he couldn’t. The priest can’t tell anyone—including the police or the courts—what is said in the confessional, ever. This is the called the “sacramental seal.” The children were surprised: “Whoa! Really?” Several of them didn’t think it was right the priest couldn’t help the police if the person had committed a serious crime.
To help my students understand the importance of the sacramental seal, I asked my students: “How hard is it to tell another person about the wrong you’ve done? Would you want to tell someone all the wrong you’ve done knowing they could go tell everyone else? If you knew they were going to tell other people, would you share everything?”
The children all shook their heads. I explained that God wants us to come to Reconciliation with all our sins, hurtful actions, and pain. God wants to heal us. This sacramental seal—the absolute secrecy regarding the sins confessed in the confessional—is a way to help us receive God’s healing. Knowing that the priest can’t speak about what we tell him helps us feel comfortable enough to be completely honest with God. When we are completely honest about our sins and wrongdoings, the forgiveness feels that much greater.
Most of the students accepted the answer and seemed sincerely comforted by it. Since there were a few who still expressed skepticism—they were not quite sure that what was said in confession was absolutely secret—I dwelled on the topic a little longer to help drive the point home.
Before moving on, I once again reiterated God’s love for us. God wants us to ask for forgiveness, so he can be merciful and show us his love. In the end, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an important gift of God’s love.