My daughter is preparing for her First Reconciliation this year. A few weeks ago I went to the parent meeting in the church and I was so pleased to hear the emphasis they had on this Sacrament, like all Sacraments, being a celebration. The director of religious education did not rush into sharing the details of the date, time, where, dress code, format..etc. of the special event, but rather provided time for us parents to understand this sacrament from a loving perspective. She challenged us to reflect on our image of this sacrament, to better ensure we pass on a healthy and accurate image of this grace-filled reconciliation with our Heavenly Father to our children. She encouraged the parents to not look at this Sacrament of Reconciliation as a requirement to receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, but to see the valuable gift it is in itself. She encouraged us to use the materials provided to teach and educate and prepare the children ourselves, along with the classes, and take advantage of the retreat this winter to further enhance the experience for our children.
I was so relieved! So many times this Sacrament has negative connotations and so many times the graces of this Sacrament are wasted in our Church today! So many times this Sacrament is avoided out of fear of forgetting the formalities, or embarrassment of confessing our sinfulness. Or because we simply don’t think we are sinners.
I myself have some not-too-fond memories of this sacrament, i.e. being reprimanded as a child for not remembering how long it had been since I last went and so on. Luckily I had been blessed by my dad, who went regularly and invited my sisters and me to go with him on Saturday afternoons. I was able to move past my humiliation and continue to go. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I was graced with a particularly wonderful confession that has changed things ever since. My life has truly been transformed since that particular confession. What made it different from other times is that I was completely open. Completely honest. No holding back. I confessed my sin with all of its layers, all of its hidden motivations. It was embarrassing and humiliating. And yet – very freeing. God knew all of it anyway. Who had I been kidding? The barriers I put up between God and myself started to tumble down. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and to stand in truth, honest about my weakness. And I heard the words of absolution. Joyful words of absolution and an outpouring of mercy. It was in that confessional that I was convinced that I was not loved because I was perfect, or that I earned love by being good. God had loved me all the time. The difference was that in sharing how very miserable I was, and God STILL forgave, and STILL loved me, I could see that God’s love is so very different from human love. God’s love is pure. And that showed me my place before Him. He is God Almighty, all-loving, all-powerful, and I am His little child. His Love became something so much more significant. I understood that God loved me even though I didn’t deserve it. And to me, I finally understood what mercy meant. I had experienced it that very day. My weaknesses reveal God’s mercy and His grace, and reveal to me more of Who He is. And then my response can be one of LOVE! Not of duty, or responsibility, or guilt. The more I discover Who God is, the more my heart can respond out of Joy and out of Love.
This is my prayer for my daughter: that she not be afraid of standing in truth. That she can celebrate MERCY for what it truly is. That she trusts that God loves her, just as she is (all in the arms of our Blessed Mama, of course!).