A Little History
In 2001, around the time our first child was born, the Lord called me to youth ministry. This call was totally out of left-field; but as I have come to appreciate, God does not always call the prepared, He prepares those He calls.
As youth minister, at one of the youth conferences I attended with my youth - Steubenville Youth Conference - I went to confession for the first time in over fifteen years. The last time was likely my sophomore year of high school (Confirmation).
At the time, I was steeped in sin, having missed Mass hundreds of times since high school, drank more than I should (college years), held money and food as gods, sins of impurity, and acts of dishonesty, to name a few… Let’s just say, I was scared to death, unable to remember even how to make a good confession; much less do this face-to-face with Jesus in the person of the priest sitting directly in front of me.
Nevertheless, I mustered up my courage and made a good and full confession. When I heard the priest say the words of absolution, "May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (See CCC1449)" I left the confessional that day, free, forgiven, and forever changed. I had peace; true peace, for the first time in years. That was a feeling I liked, and I wanted more!
I began to question the “need” for the Sacrament and what the Church actually teaches in terms of how often we should receive it and if we can confess to God directly, why do we need the Sacrament.
Here is what I learned:
- Confession is a sacrament of healing (being reconciled with God). (See CCC 1421)
- I learned that we “need” to go to confession when in a state of mortal sin; as we cannot receive Jesus in the Eucharist if we are in a state of mortal sin. (See CCC1446 & 1385)
- I also learned that our venial sins are forgiven at every Holy Mass, through the reception of the Eucharist. We have already called to mind our sins during the Penitential Act where we pray the Confiteor (“I confess to almighty God…”). (See CCC 1416)
- The terms “reconciliation” and “confession” are used interchangeably when referring to this sacrament. Confession focuses on our part; reconciliation focuses on God’s movement in the sacrament. (See CCC 1424.)
And, as I ventured down the home-schooling road, teaching our children core truths of our beautiful Catholic faith, I also re-learned all the fun stuff I was taught as a sprightly youth in CCD from the lovely Baltimore Catechism. Bear with me.
- God created us to know, love, and serve Him, that we may be happy with him in heaven (sainthood). 2 We are all called to be saints.
- We sin and this kills the life of Christ in us. 2 We all sin.
- God loves us so much, and recognizes our weakness, tendency toward sin, that He suffered and died, emptying Himself completely on the Cross to redeem us (save us) that we may be happy with Him in Heaven.
- God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NASB
- His love is so great, that He chose to give us special help, grace, through the sacraments on our journey back to Him in an eternal family.
What is a Sacrament?
As some of you may recall from the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism: A Sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace. 2 What does this mean?
The path to holiness is like climbing a mountain - a steep and daunting precipice; a mountain, with rocks, steep inclines, and at times, scorching heat. The ascent up this mountain creates in us an unquenchable thirst, that without this thirst being satiated, the ascent would be impossible.
The Sacraments are the living water, if you will, that satiates our thirst and refreshes our soul; giving us the grace to forge onward.
What is Grace?
Grace is supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation2.
Through the Sacraments, we receive the grace to forge ahead when weary or tired (Sanctifying Grace). We receive the strength, through the sacraments to chooses to do right and avoid evil (Actual Grace). 2
How do we obtain grace?
- The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. 2
So how cool – God created us to be happy with Him in heaven, and gives us the tools, in spite of our sinfulness, to reach this exalted place as HIS adopted sons and daughters.
What is Sin?
I would be remiss in sharing the joy and gratitude we enjoy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, if I did not demonstrate the sin from which this beautiful and peace-filled sacrament frees us.
Well, we are a fallen humanity; sin being introduced by Adam and Eve (Genesis Chapter 3) and since then, our tendency is toward sin.
Romans 3:23 - “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”Any time we choose our will over God’s we are choosing to sin.
1 John 1:8-10 - “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [however] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
Take heart and take up your cross; daily. God never promised that our pilgrimage back to him would be easy. In fact, He challenges us in Luke 9 and Matthew 16 to “…take up [your] cross and follow Me. The good news? He does not ask we do this alone. In Matthew chapter 11, He asks that we come to Him, weary and heavy laden, promising to carry the yoke with us, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” THAT IS GRACE!
To overcome sin, we rely, not on ourselves, but by cooperating with God’s grace. And believe me, we are all sinners. Even the greatest of saints were all sinners. St. Paul teaches in Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”
So let’s get this straight, He created us to be happy with Him in heaven, knowing we are all sinners, AND “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) by pouring Himself out, completely in His Passion and death. He then asks us to carry our crosses with Him, and promises to help us do so?
Hadn’t he already done enough? He could have just left well enough alone with the love He poured out on the Cross of Calvary. But, that is not our God. Our God is relentlessly pursuing us, allowing us our free will, but continually begging us to come to Him and giving us the grace to do so, if we ask.
Again, we are weak, prone to sin. What could God do to help our burden be light, how could He help us? He gave us the Sacraments. The Sacraments, as I have mentioned already, are an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace2. We come to Him to receive His grace enabling us climb the mountain of holiness, through the sacraments.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation - Confession
Confession takes humility, and our pride, the evil one’s favorite sin (as you recall in Genesis 3, it was the sin of pride that lead Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, that they may be like God knowing good and evil.) The evil one will do all in his power to keep us from receiving grace in confession, by tempting us into the sin of pride. He tricks us into believing that either our sin is too great, that we can be neither loved nor forgiven, or perhaps our sin is not great at all and not needing to be confessed.
On the other hand, God desires to lavish His grace upon us; but we need to humble ourselves enough to go to Him to ask for this healing.
One excellent example of the sin of pride and confession can be found in Luke chapter 18; The Pharisee and the Publican.
Jesus teaches us, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [Jews were known for strict obedience to the law and holiness] and the other a tax collector [Tax collectors were known for collecting more tax than the law prescribed; stealing, and everybody knew it].
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.Therefore, it says in James 4:6, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Confession takes humility. In this simple act of faith and humility, the sinner exposes his wounds, weaknesses, and falls. But the grace that flows over those open wounds heals and restores us.
We commit two types of sin:
- Mortal Sin
- Actual Sin
What is Mortal Sin? For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met:
- "Sin is of grave matter
- You must know it is grave
- Choose to do it anyway. (CCC1857)
In other words, we have full knowledge and give full consent. If we break any of the commandments in a serious way, we commit mortal sin.
St. Thomas and St. Augustine define mortal sin:
“A turning away from God, that is turning of one’s back upon God.” 1
What is Venial Sin? For a sin to be venial, the offense against the laws of God are not so grievous as mortal. There are two ways for a sin to be considered venial:
- “Evil done is not seriously wrong
- Evil done is seriously wrong, but sinner sincerely believes it is only slightly wrong OR does not give full consent.” (CCC 1862)
WE ARE GIVEN GRACE TO AVOID SIN THROUGH PRAYER AND RECEIVING THE SACRAMENTS
The best illustration I have found to teach the effect of sin, and the grace that flows from the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we come, is as follows:
- Stand near, facing a Crucifix, and explain that I choose my will over God’s by speaking uncharitably behind a friend’s back. I take a step away from Jesus crucified.
- Now, I tell a lie; another step away from Him.
- Next I choose my will over His through mortal sin. Take another BIG step away AND turn around so as to no longer see Jesus’ face; back now turned to Him.
- Finally, meet Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Turn around and walk back to the Crucifix.
Confession is a Family Affair
“As a family, we value the Sacrament of Reconciliation and fully embrace the Church’s teaching on this powerful and freeing sacrament. For many, it is an undiscovered gem in the vast treasure chest of our Church. If we can foster a love for this Sacrament in our children when they are young, they will be stronger in their faith and have a well-formed conscience when they enter the world as an adult.
As one of my spiritual director’s correctly put it, “As parents, our God-given role, is the highest calling! We are called to shape character, instill virtues, and affect the world.”4 If our children are going to be well-formed, virtuous, and obedient to God in their adult years, we will have to guide their souls into a loving relationship with Jesus in their formative years.
Jesus is love, and He is the King of Mercy. In their humanity, our children’s human weakness, they will need the assurance that they are loved and forgiven, because they most assuredly will fall, again, and again. Each time they fall, Jesus will be there in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, waiting with love and mercy, to pick them up and help them to begin again. Our children will grow, with confidence in Jesus’ mercy and love through this amazing treasure!
As Catholics and children of God, we can approach this powerful sacrament with faith in the words that Jesus shared with St. Faustina:
… When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy…. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity.5Go, with confidence, and meet Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Our Lord is relentlessly pursuing us - all of the time - and His only desire is to be happy with us in Heaven. This is why He created us. We are sinners and our sin kills the life of Christ in us. Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciiation that we may be reconciled with Him and that He may shower grace upon our souls, to strengthen us on our journey back to Him in an eternaly family; to heaven.
As parents, we can encourage our children to receive this beautiful sacrament. Better yet, let them see the joy and peace we are given when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- My Confession Handbook - A Child’s Worry-Free Handbook to the Treasure of the Sacrament of Reconciliation Great for Saints-In-Training, Ages 7 – 10, With the Guidance of Parent or Guardian - also available on Amazon.com
- My Catholic Family – Sts. Padre Pio & John Vianney DVD’s (The entire DVD set is worthwhile - EWTN.com)
- King of the Golden City – Mother Mary Loyola (Our preferred version has study material by Janet P. McKenzie)
- A Reconciliation Reader-Retreat: Read-Aloud Lessons, Stories, and Poems for Young Catholics Preparing for Confession – Janet P. McKenzie (RACEforHeaven.com)
- Brother Francis / Forgiven DVD
- Guidebook for Confession for Children – Edited by Beatriz B. Brillantes - Sinag-Tala Publishers, Inc
- The Most Beautiful Thing in the World - Susan Brindle / Ann Brindle / Margaret Brindle
- The Young Life of St. Maria Faustina - Claire Jordan Mohan
- Children’s Book of Virtues - Bill Bennett
- Holy Heroes Audio Cd’s – HolyHeroes.com
- A Child’s Rule of Life - Robert Hugh Benson – Neumann Press
- Angel Food for Boys and Girls (Set of four) – Father Gerald T. Brennan - Neumann Press (read aloud)
- The Bible, read aloud daily to your children, starting with the Gospels. (We use both the New American Standard Bible and Golden Children’s Bible, by Golden Books).
1. The Way of Salvation and of Perfection – St. Alphonsus De Liguori
2. Baltimore Catechism
3. My Confession Handbook, Jr.- Soley
4. Lori Knuth
5. Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of Saint Maria Fausinta Kowalska, Faustina Kowalska