CONFESSION: THE ULTIMATE VALUES CLARIFICATION TOOL
Foss is a freelance writer and managing editor of Welcome Home, a magazine for mothers at home.
In an effort to make more room on bursting bookshelves, I recently went through old college textbooks and class notes. Of course, this project took a great deal more time than it should have because I stopped to read through many notes. I did discover some interesting food for thought: in every teaching methods course I took, from children's literature to science, there was at least one lecture on values clarification.
We were instructed never to impose our own values on the students but simply to reflect their ideas to them in an effort to help the children crystallize their opinions on weighty matters of the world. Part of the philosophy behind this approach was that a teacher should never encroach upon the parent's beliefs. While that may be sound, often children are not sure what their parents believe or do not know how to reconcile their parent's beliefs with information they are absorbing from their peer culture. They need an adult to be a sounding board, but they also need someone who is not afraid to direct. Fortunately the Church provides both and then some.
A child at the age of reason who has frequent access to confession has the ultimate values clarification tool. He has the wise counsel of a priest who is well grounded in the faith of his parents but is sufficiently detached from the immediate family to offer fresh perspective. He is guaranteed his privacy and his parents are guaranteed that the moral values they are trying to instill will be defended.
Children, who are sorting through all the confusion of youth and forming the consciences which will be with them for a lifetime, can be especially benefitted by the blessings they receive in the sacrament of reconciliation. With frequent confession (at least once a month or more), they become acutely aware of right and wrong and more finely tuned to discerning God's will in their lives and listening for His call. Children need the grace of this sacrament to fight the very real battles of Christian childhood.
Children who have frequent access to confession may be its greatest advocates. A boy I know who encounters Christ in reconciliation twice a month is keeping a catalog of his younger sister's offenses. He is campaigning furiously for her first confession. Beyond the fact that he may enjoy the idea that ultimately she will have to squirm a little as she recounts her deeds, I think he has an intuitive sense that if she is held accountable to God and to a priest every other week, she may think twice before offending her brothers.
Since the fall of man, he has been tempted. To merely point out the myriad of temptations without identifying them as opportunities to offend God and then offering the way to overcome them is to cast a child adrift in a most dangerous sea. The confessional is a safe place for a child to ask those "values clarification" questions, knowing that he will get Christian answers, not merely varied (and sometime godless) options.
The best way to introduce a child to the idea of regular confession is for parent to bring him along when he or she goes. A parent who makes the effort to get to confession regularly speaks volumes about its importance without saying word. The child has the opportunity to see full repentance and complete forgiveness being modelled. Parents can help children facing first confession to formulate a personal questionnaire to use as an examination of conscience. Read the examination aloud to the child, allowing him to answer silently. In the beginning, the parent is probably more aware of a child's weaknesses than the child. Certainly, such spiritual direction is within the parent's domain and will probably be welcomed by the child. A booklet entitled, Guidebook for Confession for Children, available from Scepter Press, contains an excellent explanation of the sacrament and a child's examination of conscience.
Young people thrive in an ordered environment; they hunger for wise counsel and discipline. To set a child adrift to discern for himself what is right and wrong is to deprive him of the treasure of the Word made flesh. Scripture, dogma, and doctrine together provide a beautiful roadmap for life. The destination is heaven and the mode of transportation is perfect love of Jesus. Children need to see sin as a roadblock on their journey to live out a life of Christian love. A regular confessor can help a child recognize troublesome patterns in his life as well offering concrete strategies for negotiating the obstacles in his spiritual journey.
The August 4, 1994 issue of
The Arlington Catholic Herald,
diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese.
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