This is the time of year before first Holy Communion that it is my joy to hear the first confessions of the children. As they were making their confessions it came to me what a beautiful and dignified sacrament this is. The innocence and trust of the children hammered it home.
Why do I say it is beautiful? Because even the most self righteous or most hardened sinner, when they come to confession, are humbled and that is a beautiful thing. Even if their confession is rote or routine or they have not really examined their consciences very well, still there is a person there on the other side of the screen who is in private without having to try to impress anyone with any mask or any outward appearance. The children at the age of seven are like that too, and they remind me that every penitent is, for a moment a child again, and certainly a true child of God.
First confessions are also beautiful because at that crucial age, when reason is beginning to form within the child’s heart and mind, the church gives them a moral framework with which to view the world. This moral framework–not only the rules and regulations of religion–but the whole IDEA that they live in a moral universe is set down in their formative years. The simply preparation and making of one’s confession is an admission and acknowledgement that we live in a moral universe, and this is an awesome and beautiful thing.
Therefore, if we live in a moral universe, there is such a thing as natural law and if this is so, then there must be a lawgiver. That these simple foundational truths are ingrafted in a child’s heart is a true gift to them for they will be happier and more secure people knowing that they live in a moral universe with a good and gracious father above.
The dignity of the sacrament follows from the beauty. It is dignified because the child, in acknowledging their sins also immediately and automatically acknowledge their responsibility. The acceptance of a penance no matter how small is the acceptance of their responsibility for themselves. This is a huge and beautiful gift because it acknowledges their innate dignity as a child of God with free will. They have free will! They can do what they please! They can therefore take responsibility for themselves, and this is a dignified gift.
If they take responsibility for themselves then they will come to know eventually that they cannot blame anyone else for their problems. If all goes well they will therefore have the foundation in their lives to become responsible and successful individuals because the happiest and most successful people are those who have learned early on not to blame others, not to be entitled, not to give in to resentment and her ugly sisters rivalry and revenge. They will be individuals who see the moral universe clearly and take charge.
All of this packed into the sweet, trusting faces who come to accept the Lord’s forgiveness, and in that action accept his power to change themselves, change their world and change their eternal destiny.
The naysayers will grumble, “But how terrible that you load an innocent child up with guilt and make him feel bad and make him go through life with such a terrible cloud over his head.”
Fools! They know so little!
I answer them with the story one father told me of his son leaving his first confession. The child had compiled a list of his sins. He admitted to his father that he felt nervous before the confession, but when he came out his face shone with a radiant beaming smile and he stopped and took list and tore it up and said to his father. “I’m free!”
Take that on the nose you atheistic scrooges.