Monday, December 10, 2012

Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned

This evening Fr. Chateau—the priest who works with me—and I heard the confessions of our Tenth Grade religious education students.  I love hearing the confessions of our young people.  In a particular way, I love hearing their confessions because those who are responsible for preparing them—both our Religious Education teachers and our Catholic School teachers—have done such a wonderful job preparing them. 
                                                                I have always found it frustrating to go and hear confessions somewhere when the kids are totally unprepared.  You know there’s a long line of kids waiting, you only have a short time available, and the kids come in and look like somebody forced them into this room with you and they are clueless as to why.  I don’t mean that they don’t know what to say.  I mean that they don’t know why they are there.  The kid is terrified—not because they don’t know the form or because they don’t know exactly what to confess—but because he or she is basically not sure what the whole thing is all about.
For the past decade, the teachers here have made confession a big focus.  They go through an age appropriate examination of conscience.  The kids learn the form (but always have the cheat sheet with them in case they forget).  For years, people got rid of teaching the form because they didn’t want the kids to be nervous about memorizing.  The opposite is actually the case.  Being familiar with the form of confession actually takes some of the nervousness away.  And, learning to say, “And for these and all of my sins I am truly sorry” helps the priest know when the person is done speaking as opposed to when the person is pausing.  Knowing the form helps the kids relax.
While not always successful, we try to get all of the school kids and religious ed kids to confession twice a year.  After a decade or so, it’s become second nature.  What I’ve particularly enjoyed is not having to waste time in the confessional calming kids down, telling them not to be nervous, getting them actually to speak, and trying to elicit a confession.  Now, they come in, say how long it’s been since their last confession, and then go through a comprehensive confession.  It is really so encouraging. 
By preparing the young people over and over again every year, they come into the confessional with a greater sense of ease.  They know why they are there and I have found that it leaves much more opportunity for them to encounter Christ and his great mercy.  I have found that over time the confessions of our young people have become more mature and intelligent than they were in the past.  It is very beautiful. 
Getting a parish back into the habit of confession has been a lot of work for a lot of people!  It means bringing it up in the homily often, writing about it in the bulletin frequently, and providing opportunities to receive it.  The one thing I wish I had done better is providing more opportunities for it.  It is tough to figure out a convenient time for people.  But, providing it to our young people has been a great privilege.  And, I am really grateful that those who instruct our young people have done such a great job preparing them.  And, I’ve had priests with me who are generous with their time.
Tonight, as I walked back to the rectory after confessions I was thinking of how at the beginning of this project preaching about confession received a certain amount of eye rolls.  It was as though confession was some sort of throwback to a bygone era.  But, after a decade, there’s a culture change.  Certainly there aren’t as many confessions as there should be and we still have work to do with forming good consciences, but there’s been a culture change.  Confession has become a way of life for a good amount of people.  They love it and appreciate it. 
I think it is easy to give up on confession.  Priests are confronted with years of poor formation and years of people being convinced that confession is not really necessary.  Educating young people on how to go to confession, how to form your conscience, what sin is, why confession is necessary and good etc—all takes work and patience.  And, it requires a team of people who work together.  It requires teachers to take time out of their already packed schedules to review with students and help them to form their consciences.  It requires the priest be willing to preach over and over again.  It requires priests to spend time hearing confessions.  All of that work and effort can seem too much.  It’s easy to give up.
Hearing the confessions of our young people tonight really filled my heart with a lot of gratitude.  It made me very grateful that we didn’t give up.

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