By Fr. Robert Lange
After hearing literally thousands of confessions of grade-school children, I must admit that many young people are poorly trained in understanding the nature of sin and of being aware of their own sinfulness. The lessons must come from committed parents.
A generic confession from a youth may include a few of the following offenses against Our Lord: spats with siblings, mistreating a friend, telling a lie or two, cheating at a game, or maybe missing Sunday Mass.
The last sin mentioned is objectively grave and breaks our relationship with Our Lord. However, it is difficult to come to the conclusion that a child is culpable for the sin of missing Mass. After all, children can’t drive themselves to church. The sin is even more hurtful than “just” skipping Mass. Parents that miss Mass (even occasionally) say to their child, by their actions, that to disregard Church teachings in one matter makes it all right to do so in other matters of faith and morals. The children will remember and imitate their parents’ actions in their own lives. (“If my parents can do it, then I can too.”) It can create a dangerous domino effect leading downhill.
Let us return to that list of sins the child confesses. After they are finished listing their sins, I ask, “Do you always obey your Mother and Dad?” Typically I receive the answer, “Well most of the time, I do.” Then I continue, “What is it called when you do not obey?” There is usually a pause, and then I hear, “Disobedience?” I answer, “Yes, and that is a sin, and it should always be confessed!”
Now we are getting where we need to be to help the young disciple of Christ.
My dialogue with the child begins with a couple of questions. I ask, “Is Jesus God?” “Yes, indeed,” they say. I continue, “Did Jesus live with Joseph and Mary in Nazareth when He was your age?” They say, “Yes.” Next I ask if Jesus was obedient to them, and they reply, “Yes!”
I continue by saying that if Jesus, who is God, can humble himself to be obedient to His mother and foster father, then the child can humble himself to obey his parents too! After all, I say, “Your parents love you and want the best for you. They even changed your diapers for years out of love, and what did you do to say Thank You? You spit up on them!” (If said correctly it produces a little lightheartedness, but reminds them how much their parents have given to them. The tone in the youth’s voice usually tells me that they need to keep that in mind after they leave the confessional.)
I remind them that obedience to their parents is a most important virtue to learn, and the younger we start to understand and practice it, the better off we are in life.
We all must be obedient to rightful authority in our lives. For children, God’s representatives in their lives are their parents. The parents in turn must be obedient to civil and Church authorities.
My suggestion to parents is to teach children how important they are, not only to their parents but also to Our Lord. They need to learn that the bottom line in life is to get to heaven. Heaven is our primary goal, and everything else is window dressing. Heaven is our primary goal, but it comes at a price: the price of dying to self and of being obedient to God’s Will.
A side note to parents regarding obedience: When we disagree with the Church in faith or morals, we are imitating children’s disobedient behavior. Let us examine our conscience and confess our own lack of obedience to rightful authority.
I do not intend that these few words are all we need to know about the Sacrament of Confession, but it is a start in helping us all to achieve a better and more permanent positive relationship with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.How frequently do you take your children to confession?