Last month I gave a presentation to parents at our First Reconciliation parent meeting.  The following was the focus of my presentation to parents:

The 5 Steps to Making a Good Confession

1. Make an Examination of Conscience. Although there are other means to do so the 10 Commandments have been the primary way the Church has encouraged a person to reflect on how they have been faithful or less than faithful to following God.  The precepts of the Church are also good to reflect upon when examining our conscience. 

2) Have contrition for your sins.  Contrition is sorrow for sin.  We are called to be sorry for what we have done wrong and for the ways we have not lived according to God’s ways.

I shared how there are two kinds of contrition: Imperfect and Perfect Contrition.

– Imperfect Contrition is when you are sorry for your sins because you fear the punishment that will follow.

– Perfect Contrition is when you are sorry for your sins will all your heart, because they have offend God and hurt others.

Often children and adults are somewhere in the middle but it is important to help children be aware that we are called to be as authentically sorry as possible, not because we are afraid, but because we don’t want to offend God.

3) Decide, with God’s help, to not sin anymore.

This Third step is very important.  Before we go to Confession, we must really make a decision or as it use to be said, make a “firm purpose of amendment” to do better with God’s help.  We must decide to not do things that lead us to sin.  We may have to avoid people and places that might lead us to sin.  It is very probable that we will sin again but at the time of our confession we must be resolved that we will not sin in the future.

4) Confess your sins to a priest. To be able to go to Confession, you must first be baptized, and you must be old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong (CCC 1457).  You must also go to Confession before your First Communion (CCC 1457).  To receive absolution (to be told your sins are forgiven), you must confess your sins to a priest or bishop (CCC1461).

You must confess all your mortal sins and the number of times you did each of them [for example if you missed Mass 3 times].  It is also good to confess venial sins (CCC 1458).

Venial Sin is more than an accident.  It wounds our relationship with God and others.  Mortal sin does more than wound, it ruptures or breaks our relationship with God.  We lose the life of grace given to us at Baptism when we commit a mortal sin.  Granted most 2nd graders don’t have the capacity to commit a mortal sin, I think it is important to mention it because I will not have these parents as a captive audience in the future to share this with them.  I also share the 3 criteria that make up a mortal sin (Grave Matter, Full Knowledge and Complete Consent).

I also give examples to help give some perspective… I share their child steals 25 cents that is wrong but it is not grave matter verses stealing 25 or 50 dollars from Mom’s purse.  That is closer to being grave matter.  Another example I give is lying.  If you lie about doing a homework assignment it probably is not grave matter but lying about who broke the window on the car and bringing someone else into it and then having to get their parents involved and finally discovering that your child is the guilty one would be in the direction of it being grave matter.

The bottom line is that we want to make sure we are always living in a state of grace so we have the assurance of being in right relationship with God.  If parents help form the child’s conscience well then children will know when they need to go to the Sacrament before going to Communion.  Also, we should encourage parents to make it a regular practice even if we don’t have mortal sin on our soul.  I heard of one bishop asking the people of his diocese to go once a month.  That is great advice.

5) Do Penance.  You should do it right away.  Penance helps you to make amends for the wrong that has been done.  Most of the time the priest gives a very light penance – say 3 Our Father’s and 3 Hail Mary’s, do a kind deed to another person or spend some time praying in the church.  If we have broken something the priest almost never gives the penance of the penitent having to come up with the money to pay for what was broken.  I encourage parents to ask their child (after he/she has done something that they need to go to confession for) “what penance would you have the priest give you”?  This can be a great way to reflect on how to make amends for something.

These 5 steps are good for children and for adults.  I think they are foundational steps as children prepare for and continue their whole lives to encounter Christ’s mercy and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.