Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The Family Room by Michelle Martin

Bless me Father …

Idon’t know quite how long it’s been since my last confession. Not too long, no more than a year at least.

But I don’t make the kind of regular use of the sacrament that Father Dennis Lyle talks about in the story about confession on pages 12-13, even though I know it’s always helpful to me spiritually.

It was hard to make that point to Caroline before her first confession last year. While she was excited about First Communion, she was trepidatious about confession.

But when it came to it, she sailed through with flying colors. She sat in her chair in the sanctuary, facing the priest and chatting away for a few minutes.

When she came back to her seat, she was smiling from ear to ear.

And her first confession has not been her last. She’s been to confession a couple of more times in school, and once on her own on the weekend.

That time, she asked me on a Friday if she could go to confession. So on Saturday, we piled in the car and went to church. I’m not sure what she had to say; I bit my tongue and didn’t ask. But once again, when she finished, she skipped out of the church.

A priest once told me that the confessions of children—especially first confessions— are the “confessions of the angels” because, whatever sins they ask forgiveness for, they still are so innocent.

Seen through an adult’s eyes, they are innocent— but not so much, perhaps, through an adult’s words.

I love my children, think they’re great people and do my best to heed the ubiquitous parenting advice to “catch them doing something right” and remark upon it.

But more often than not, I’m correcting their behavior, stopping them from doing something, or imposing discipline. Often, whatever they are doing has no moral value—wearing or not wearing shoes outside is not a question of right and wrong, it’s just a matter of safety—but then there’s the list that hinges on respect for other people: “Don’t hit your brother.” “Don’t take your sister’s things without asking.” “Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice.”

My kids think they would rather be adults than kids because kids can’t always do what they want, and, they think, adults can. But I think the real difference is that adults don’t always have someone looking over their shoulders, ready to point out misbehavior so they learn how to behave properly. When adults make minor missteps, most people who notice will politely look the other way, unless the damage to someone else demands action.

When we say our prayers at night, and I ask the kids to tell God what they are sorry for, 6- year-old Frankie will often say, “I am sorry for nothing” because he can’t remember anything wrong he did. Other times, he will ask me if he did anything he should be sorry for. I try not to answer directly, instead leading him through the day in his mind. Caroline, at 9, has no such trouble.

On the other hand, if I’m ever at a loss for what to ask forgiveness for, the kids are always ready to tell me where I’ve come up short in their eyes, usually for losing my patience with them. I guess that’s one way having kids keeps you young: you get an external commentator on everything you do, just like kids do.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].