‘I Am Heartily Sorry’: 2 Holy Habits to Prepare Children for First (and Regular) Reconciliation


Jesus waits for the young and old alike in the sacrament of penance.
Jesus waits for the young and old alike in the sacrament of penance. (photo: Unsplash)

The candles flicker on the living room altar as my husband asks the children to quiet down from their chatter. The girls sit on the couch, while our 7-year-old son climbs on my lap for our bedtime prayer time. My husband leads us in prayer: “Let’s all take a moment to examine our consciences.” There is a moment of quiet as we all consider our day. What are the things we have done that have brought us closer to the Lord? What are the things that have brought us further away from Christ? 

Normally, we proceed in prayer with the Confiteor, in Latin or in English, but since my son is going to make his first reconciliation soon, we pray an Act of Contrition together instead. We want to make sure that he has it memorized and is completely prepared to begin the reception of this healing sacrament, which we will encourage him to receive regularly for the rest of his life.

For parents, as the primary educators of our children, we need to help our children to know that the first reconciliation is just the beginning of a habit of receiving this sacrament regularly, so that our souls can be filled with grace and formed in virtue in order to become more united to God.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about the sacrament of penance in Question 84 of the Third Part of the Summa Theologiae, explaining that it is a sacrament necessary for the salvation of those who have sinned. 

When we do not seek out this sacrament when we are in sin, even in venial sin, we act with ingratitude to Christ, who came to earth and died for us to restore us to union with God. Regular reception of the sacrament of reconciliation is part of the path to heaven that Christ has given us through the Church.

In the book Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales explains why we should receive this sacrament regularly: 

“Make your confession humbly and devoutly every week, and always, if you can, before communicating, even although your conscience is not burdened with mortal sin; for in confession you do not only receive absolution for your venial sins, but you also receive great strength to help you in avoiding them henceforth, clearer light to discover your failings, and abundant grace to make up whatever loss you have incurred through those faults. You exercise the graces of humility, obedience, simplicity and love, and by this one act of confession you practice more virtue than in any other” (Chapter XIX). 

While we may not all be able to receive this sacrament weekly, any regular habit of it leads us closer to God. Here are a few ways to foster this habit in our children. 

First, set an example. My husband and I, since the beginning of our relationship, are intentional about receiving the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, either at the same confession time offered at a local church or within a day or so of each other. 

When our children were little, we found confession times that worked for the whole family, often devoting an hour of a Saturday morning or afternoon to waiting in line and then taking turns watching our kids while each of us went into the confessional. It felt chaotic at times, but it was so worth it, to both be shriven and have the graces to go back to our life ready to make a fresh start. For us, it has worked to plan to go every two weeks. As our children reached the age of reason, they simply joined us in the confession line. Now that schedules are busier and our oldest has the opportunity to receive the sacrament during her day at school, we sometimes split up who goes when, but we always try to go within a few days of each other.

Perhaps this kind of schedule seems overwhelming, but we must consider the reason: We would not avoid bathing or brushing our teeth. Our souls, which shall live for all eternity, are so much more important than our physical hygiene. The fact is that it is so easy to make excuses to not go to confession: a kid has a sporting event, the lines are too long there, etc. But if we do not make it a habit, we will miss out on the grace being offered: God came among us to make us one with him again. 

Second, teach children to do a daily examination of conscience. We do this at our afternoon family quiet prayer time and again whenever we sit down to bedtime family prayer. In the afternoon, I tell my children to imagine themselves with Jesus, which is a way of placing themselves in the presence of God. This imagining has sometimes been being a lamb in the arms of the Good Shepherd or up on the mast of a ship in a storm that Jesus is about to calm. For me, it is often imagining myself in our local adoration chapel before the Eucharist. Then I prompt them to tell the Lord in their hearts something they are thankful for that day and something for which they are sorry. 

As we prepare children for their first reconciliation, or encourage regular reception and regular examination, these holy habits will help all of us to grow in holiness — and increase the love of God in familial hearts.