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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

April 12, 2009

A good confession

Frank’s first confession was nothing like mine.

Well, maybe not “nothing like.” They were both face-to-face, and they both involved a priest. But our initiations to the sacrament of reconciliation, some 30 years apart, had a totally different feeling.

When I went, the priest I was assigned to was stationed in the sacristy. I walked in and sat in front of him, with my knees shaking, and totally forgot everything I was supposed to say.

The priest, only a year or two past ordination himself, patiently led me through the formulas and then waited for me to come up with something to confess.

I couldn’t do it. My mind was a blank. I have no problem now coming with a variety of things my 7-year-old self could have confessed to — I think fighting with my brother would have topped the list — but nothing popped into my head then.

The priest eventually absolved me of everything I might have confessed, I breathed a big sigh of relief and did my penance.

Frank, on the other hand, said he wasn’t nervous as we walked into the church before the communal service for first reconciliation.

He fidgeted a little more than usual in the pew, so I think he was nervous, at least a little.

The service included the Act of Contrition, so all the children had to do when they sat down with the priest was confess their sins. And to help them remember, they had a handy, child-level examination of conscience to look at, as well as the advice of the pastor:

“Think about what you get in trouble for, not just once but over and over,” he told the children. “The things you know you shouldn’t do, and you do them anyway.”

Those are the things the children should ask Jesus to help them with, the priest told them.

Then the kids trooped up to the sanctuary, sitting one at a time with the priest. Watching child after child speak quietly for a minute or two and then listen to the priest before getting up and returning tp their parents, I wondered what all of them had to say.

Frank certainly isn’t telling — and I’m not asking. Up until recently, when we prayed at night and I asked them if there was anything they were sorry for, Frank didn’t quite get it. He would name people he felt sorry for — those who were sick, or had no homes or had some misfortune befall them. Caroline would inevitably jump to correct him, with a “No, not that kind of sorry,” until I pointed out that there’s no reason not to ask God to help other people.

But over the past several months, he has gotten the idea that by saying he is sorry, he is asking forgiveness. Now when I ask if there is anything he is sorry for, he keeps quiet, praying silently, because, he tells me, that’s between him and God.

That’s OK with me. He needs to develop his own relationship with his Creator.

When he walked back to the pew after making his first confession, there was an extra spring in his step and a smile on his face.

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