Truth From the Heart of a Child: ‘Confession Is a Beautiful Sacrament’

“By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.” (CCC 1458)

Fritz von Uhde, “Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me,” 1884
Fritz von Uhde, “Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me,” 1884 (photo: Public Domain)

A few days ago one of my younger children, a 7-year-old daughter, celebrated her first Confession.

It was beautiful.

She is the ninth in the family. Along with two of her siblings, she attends our local parish school just a few minutes from our house. She and the other students in the second-grade class have been preparing to celebrate their First Confession and Communion. They attend Mass once during the week and on those days I make sure to be there in the pews. I want her to know how central the Holy Mass is in my life, too. The Ten Commandments are posted at the front of her classroom. The children have been striving to memorize them and understand them as a practical guide for life. It is a simple catechesis, to be sure, but such a good one.

This year I also enrolled my younger children in our parish Faith Formation program. Although that might seem like overkill, this has been one of my better parenting moves. The teachers are a recently married couple. The husband is an altar server for the Traditional Latin Mass; his wife is a convert. Their love for the Church — and each other — spills over into their work with their students. These Tuesday evening classes are not “Catholic lite” for public school students in the parish. In fact, I think that the extra hour and a half of religious education my daughter receives weekly is more valuable than any other after-school activity.

Now, sending the kids to Catholic school and enrolling them in our parish religious education program doesn't mean that I’m off the hook. After all, parents are the primary educators. So, on Sundays after Mass, my daughter and I review the Baltimore Catechism and during the week we read Bible stories aloud to each other. Our family minivan transforms into a religious ed classroom as we drive back and forth to school, sporting events, or the grocery store. Well, part of the time — the Rosary is swiftly followed by the sound of kids belting out songs from Encanto, the latest Disney musical.

Last week, on the feast of St. Patrick, my daughter and her school classmates made their first Confession. For days the child caucused with older sisters about which of her Sunday dresses were her “best” for the occasion. She announced the upcoming event to everyone the night before at dinner and again during breakfast. And she convinced her eldest sister, who is definitely not a “morning person,” to braid her hair before leaving for school that day.

Later that morning, the second-grade penitents quietly entered the church. Two priests were waiting in the confessionals. I was seated in one of the pews after morning Mass had ended. A number of other parents were there, as well as members of the parish. We prayed the Rosary and then the Divine Mercy Chaplet. “Have mercy on us and all the whole world,” we said in unison as the children went in and out of the confessionals. It was the beautiful chorus of a community of believers, maybe slightly tinged with parental anxiety.

My daughter was the last child in line to confess. When it was her turn, she entered the confessional with a “cheat sheet” she had written to help her remember what prayers to recite and what faults to present. I prayed that she wouldn’t be nervous or anxious. And as she left the confessional, she walked directly to the Communion rail and knelt down. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. She made the Sign of the Cross and prayed her penance to her dear friend Jesus. She then turned around and walked toward me, flashing a smile.

I don’t have to tell you that we are all broken by sin — and that feeling dogs us, however hard we try to banish it. Thank God, then, that through the Sacrament of Penance we can ask Our Lord for forgiveness, renew our sorrow for everything that has offended him in our lives, and receive nourishment for our souls to continue with a purpose of amendment. What an incredible gift, and what a tragedy that it has receded from the lives of so many Catholics.

I gave my daughter a big hug as we left the church to spend the remainder of the day together. As we walked to the parish parking lot, we talked about all of the people who helped her and the other first penitents prepare. And then my sweet 7-year old said something I had been thinking, too: “Mom, Confession is a beautiful sacrament.”