This past weekend my seven year old son had his first confession. Unfortunately, along with this important occasion was the usual abuse of my sensibilities.
A few weeks ago I had to endure an hour of the DRE lecturing us parents in preparation for first confession and communion. She went on, and on, and on about how the religious education team was always careful never to use the word sin during their lessons about reconciliation. She insisted that the children were too young to understand the concept of sin. The idea that you cannot really ask for forgiveness without understanding sin seems to have been missed.
No, no sin here. The nuns in her childhood school, she told us, constantly talked about sin. Worse, in her mind, is that the nuns called things sin that weren’t really sins. Fortunately she did not go into detail here or I might have lost it. Teaching seven year olds about sin in preparation for confession is too traumatic, she went on. Therefore, they told the kids that they were to tell the priest about their bad choices. Bad choices. Swinging at a high fastball is a bad choice, not a sin. Wearing white after labor day is a bad choice, not a sin. Voting for Megan Joy Corkery on American Idol is a bad choice, well that isn’t a good example. Anyway, there is a big difference between a bad choice and a sin.
I left that meeting very frustrated. Of course, I do not leave my children’s religious education entirely subject to the abstract religious stylings of the average DRE. I teach my kids what they have to know. So when I picked my kids up from their catechism classes after the meeting and on the drive home, I asked my son if his teacher ever mentioned sin. He told me that she had. It turned out that, regardless of the DRE’s silly direction, she had taught them about sin anyway.
So Saturday we arrived for first confession. Fortunately the DRE, while present, was not the MC for this particular event. Unfortunately her influence was seen when we had to sit through Shine, Jesus, Shine and other such painful little diddies. Then a group of five children read a dumbed down version of the prodigal son. Why do they have to do that? Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?
After the reading, Fr. Tom approached the children seated in the front rows. “What lesson did we learn from the Prodigal Son? What do you think it is that Jesus is trying to teach us?”
Pint size paws flew up from every corner. It seemed that every child had an answer at the ready. I thought to myself that they must have taught them all about the prodigal son during classes. Taught them about sin, about misusing the gifts of the Father, about repentance, and ultimately about forgiveness. I thought for a moment that I had been a little too hard (in my mind) on the religious education program, after all my son’s teacher had told them all about sin. I thought this for a moment. A moment. Then came the answers.
“Jesus was trying to teach us that we should spend our money on good stuff!”
Fr. Tom, “Well yes we should but I think Jesus was trying to teach us something else. Anyone?”
“The older brother was mean.”
“Yes, I mean no. Sometimes we act like the older brother too. But what else was Jesus trying to teach us?”
“That we should never move out of our Mom and Dad’s house!”
“No no. It is ok to move out of the house when we grow up. After the son was sorry for what he had done. He decided to come home. When he came home, what did the Father do?”
“They had a party!”
“Yes, they had a party. Why did the Father throw a party? Was he still mad at the son for wasting all the money or was he glad to see him?”
Tentative voices offered, “Glad?”
“Yes, he was glad. The son was sorry for what he had done and the Father took him back and threw a party for him. What do you think Jesus was trying to tell us in this story? What was he trying to tell us about God?”
After a moments pause there came the lone and timid voice of a little girl. “God will forgive anything if we are sorry.”
And there it was. More catechism is a few short minutes than it seems than the children had received up until that point.
“God will forgive anything if we are sorry.” I hope DRE’s everywhere learn this lesson.