I took my older children to Confession this afternoon. The lines were long with well over 100 people in attendance, and our wait for the Confessional was way beyond an hour and a half.

The kids (ages 16, 14, 11, and 8) started off well, but by the end of the first half hour they were fidgeting and fussing with each other. An hour into the wait, I was hissing at them to be quiet, and their repressed laughter was echoing off the walls in the tight, crowded space outside the Confessional. When we were only 10 people from the door, I’d had enough and snapped at all of them to “zip it right now, and I mean it. Not another noise until we leave the church or so help me,” which drew a startled look from the man in line in front of us.

At last kneeling in the Confessional, I admitted to all kinds of things that I’ve done wrong and ended with “and I lose my temper and yell at my children.”

“How many children do you have?” asked the voice from the other side of the screen.

“Seven, Father,”

“Good golly! Really?” came his shocked reply.

“I’m not going to lie in the Confessional, Father.”

He chuckled a little. “I guess probably not. What are their ages?”

“Almost twenty down to four.”

“Hmmm…” He said, “I don’t think I’m going to give you any penance today.”

I sat there stunned. “You’re not?”

“Having seven children in this broken world we live in is a very heavy cross to carry. That’s already a heavy weight upon your shoulders. How could I possibly add to your burden?”

“So I really have no penance?”

“Let me ask this, are you truly sorry for all that you have done?”

“Yes.”

“Then, yes. You have no penance.”

I had muttered a confused thank you, rose to my feet, and turned to leave; when I heard. “One more thing… when you start to lose your temper with your children, be merciful to them as I was merciful to you today. Just let their “I’m sorry” be enough.”

I’ve thought about what he said all afternoon, and have come to realize that what he asked is the most difficult penance I’ve ever been given.