Because Confession Can Change the World

Posted by Webster 
To set this world spinning the right way round, I think we Catholics might need to do just one thing: Start going to confession again. Then take our kids to confession. Once a month would be OK, once a week even better. Don’t believe me? Listen to me brag about my fourth-grade CCD class.

I’m sure you could change the world if you could just get your kids alone to go to confession, as my fourth-graders did today. Stand and watch as each of them prepares in silence, goes nervously through the door into the sacristy, and comes out again with a huge grin and a “whew,” then settles down on a kneeler to say penance. You yourself would start going to confession again just because the whole thing is so impressive, so moving—and the kids look so happy when it’s over.

Last week, we prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by going over what you say and conducting a collective examination of conscience. I gave each child a piece of paper and a pencil, read them a series of questions, then told them after each question to write down any sins that occurred to them. Of course, their notes were “for their eyes only.” Here are some of the questions:

Do I think of God and speak to Him by praying each day?
Do I use the Lord’s name with reverence and love?
Do I attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday afternoon?
Do I obey my parents and teachers quickly and cheerfully, or must I be reminded many times?
Do I obey the rules of home and school?
Am I kind to everyone?
Did I hit, kick, or in any way hurt others on purpose?
Do I make fun or say mean things to anyone?
Do I tell the truth?

There were more such questions on the list given to us CCD teachers to help our students prepare.

My kids have never been anything like this serious in any previous class. These kids chatter for a living. Suddenly, not a word. Last week, as I read the questions, they were hunched over their crib sheets like law school graduates over a bar exam. It was that intense. Biting their lips. Biting their erasers. Jiggling their feet nervously. And barely saying a word. Which is about as amazing as an entire amusement park going stone silent all at once.

I was very proud of the fourteen, out of sixteen, who showed up today. They could have blown it off, found any excuse to miss it. But I honestly think they wanted to come, even when they thought they didn’t. Even C., who was waiting nervously in his mother’s car as I walked up to the parish school building, where classes meet. His mom said he was nervous about confession and had lost his workbook for the second time. I crouched down to speak through the car window and tell C. that when I had my first confession two years ago, I was nervous as heck. I think I even used the word heck.

When attendance had been taken, Father Barnes led the way to the chapel in the convent next door to the parish school. He told the boys to remove their hats when entering the convent and showed boys and girls how to genuflect on their right knees before sitting in their pews. He asked them to be silent and prepare themselves while waiting their turn, and most were pretty good about keeping silence. Denise, the other fourth-grade teacher, and I counseled kids who looked especially nervous. Otherwise, there was that amazing, eerie phenomenon of thirty nine-year-old children sitting quietly for half an hour.

As each child came out of the sacristy, he or she pulled down the kneeler at their pew and said their penance. Then we walked back to our classrooms. I asked the children if anyone felt worse now than they did before confession. No one raised a hand. Who felt better? Everyone. Every single child.

Each child had an opportunity to talk about the experience. Then we ended with a prayer.

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Confession is a wonderful gift … and not too readily available in many parishes. 🙁

  • Amen! Last weekend we went to Reconciliation as a family. I had my children write down notes for what to confess and my wife helped them write down the act of contrition as well. Afterwards, on the way home (it had snowed and they were dying to play in it) I told my kids we were going to build a fire and use their notes to get the flames started. Why?, they asked. "Because these sins are gone just like these papers will be after the fire starts…poof, up in smoke! Then marsh-mellows were roasted in the fireplace etc. The snow melted by 4PM and yet it had appeared overnight like manna from heaven.

  • What wonderful things you are doing for your CCD class!

  • Webster Bull

    Every week, I learn twice as much as the kids. I have to: don't want them to realize how little I know! Thanks for your comment.

  • Anonymous

    There are quite a few examples of how God's Mercy saved the world in the lives of the saints.

  • Thank you for this post. When I was growing up my Dad took us to confession monthly. It was also something that we did as a class at the Catholic school, but just during Advent and Lent, if I remember correctly. To this day I continue the practice. And, like your 4th graders, I feel really good afterwards. Also, I try to avoid the sins I confessed, because I made "a firm purpose of amendment." Needless to say, I eventually slip up….

  • A great piece. I went to Catholic school 45 years ago. We were 150 kids in three classes, preparing to make our penance a month before our first holy communion…so we were even younger than your class, only second grade. I remember exactly what you describe. Our gravity and thoughtfulness. Even though we were children, we understood how important it was.

  • Anonymous

    The work you do with your CCD kids is so admirable.The sooner they learn that the Sacrament of Reconciliation bestowsso many graces, the more they will hopefully continue to avail themselves of these graces. Believe me, I know.

  • Soutenus

    Great post . . . . I am a teacher and I have to admit I shed a little (very heartfelt) tear at your description of, "that amazing, eerie phenomenon of thirty nine-year-old children sitting quietly for half an hour."My son (10 yrs. old) and I tried to go to confession twice last week and the priest just had too many people – and only one of him. We finally got to confession on Monday and I think we could physically feel the graces raining down on us.Blessings abundant to you, Frank and your loved ones. Thank you for sharing your journeys with us!

  • Do you have any advice for someone who wants to go to confession but hasn't been in…um…decades?

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks to everyone for your comments. And as for you, Kelly! . . . Father Barnes has often cited a theology professor he had at seminary who told the class, Always remember, each of the sacraments does something. That is, the sacraments actually have an effect on the world and on us. Reconciliation/confession does something to you. All you have to do is prepare yourself sincerely and go, then go again on a regular basis. It's a gift, freely given. You just have to want it, accept it. Get over the hesitation, the stage fright, the guilt, whatever it is that's holding you back and just . . . go!

  • Webster is right on this one…"Just Do It"! You will have "butterflies" but just tell the priest that it has been two decasdes since your last confession and "can you please help me make a good confession?" He will help you out!Also, the parish may be having a Penance Service during Advent. Call the church office and see because when a Parish does this, it is similar to a "surge" operation (I'm a retired Marine remember?) and for these services priests from the Diocese "bulk up" the pastor so more of the faithful may be blessed by this Sacrament.Peace be with you!

  • @Soutenus: Thank you and Webster & I say, "Aw, shucks" 🙂

  • Joachim Ozonze

    God bless you Webster. Keep on.