Tag Archives: catechesis on confession

Young People and Confession

PICEDITOR-SHD

“We must never masquerade before God.”

These are the wonderful words of Pope Francis on Confession in a homily Tuesday morning on Confession. Confession is where there is no room for half-truths or tricks. This is where we personally meet Jesus Christ, from whom we can hide nothing, and who always receives us with great, tender mercy.

How delighted I was to see this after coming from a weekend where we witnessed precisely this power of the sacrament with young people.

Last weekend was the weekend-of-the-Confirmation-retreats. I helped out with two different retreats which happened to fall on the same weekend. The first was helping out a priest friend of mine, the second was seeing my old Confirmation group in Balham, due to be confirmed this Sunday. They have been preparing since September and it was wonderful to see them all again.

It was interesting to spend the weekend with two different groups: the similarities among teenagers are many. Furthermore, both groups have been following the same programme (one that I wrote for the group in Balham) so for me it was insightful to see them at different stages of it. With the first group, I led the same retreat that we do in Balham right at the beginning of the year. The idea behind it is that it is an evangelisation retreat, proclaiming the central Gospel message (or kerygma) and starting the young people out on a process of conversion. You can read about this retreat here and here and watch a video here. For the group last weekend, the retreat fell in the middle of their programme. However, we decided to do the same evangelisation retreat, as it is impossible to hear the Gospel message and call to conversion too much, right?! In the event, it worked brilliantly.

I think the entire fruitfulness of a retreat like this rests on the sacrament of Confession. You can have the most dazzling, entertaining, polished, non-stop fun youth retreat in the world, and the kids can leave buzzing, but unless they have made a good Confession, let me be bold and say I don’t think it is worth spending so much time and energy. For me, the entire retreat is about this. The retreat begins with God the Father’s love for us, progresses through the mercy of Jesus, God the Son, and finishes on Sunday morning with the power of God the Holy Spirit. Simple. The climax is the Saturday evening Reconciliation Service.

On this particular Saturday evening, the candidates seemed so ready to receive the grace of Confession. Many admitted they had not been to Confession for years. Opportunities for Confession had been offered during their Confirmation sessions and not taken up. So we needed to make this work! We spent a good chunk of time on Saturday afternoon on how to go to Confession, and spent time in small groups addressing concerns. I took my group off for a girlie chat, and we ended up going in detail through an examination of conscience. No stone was left unturned – we talked Sunday Mass, laziness, gossiping, purity. I discovered that the girls simply didn’t know the kinds of things they should confess. One girl said she just made things up when she went to Confession at school. I discovered I needed to spell things out to them – step by step – how to say things, what information to give, what to leave out. How often do we take time to do this with our young people? On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of our girlie chat, I found these teens soaking everything in, and, to my amazement, writing everything down. Incredible. They had a deep desire to make good Confessions but didn’t know how.

It was a long night for our priest! But very, very fruitful. What a grace to be able to lead people to Jesus’ mercy. I would not have wanted anything else to have filled last weekend.


Preparing candidates to be received into the Church

Meeting Christ's mercy in Confession

Helping people discover the mercy of Christ

A couple of weekends ago, it was a joy to join my old parish’s candidates and catechumens on their weekend retreat. Once again, we went to Ampleforth Abbey – it is really the perfect setting for such a retreat. I have said this a million times and I will never tire of saying it – what a great joy and privilege to accompany people as they prepare to enter fully into Christ and his Body, the Church. We had a weekend of teaching from Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr Sebastian (who I’ve mentioned here) on the Mass and the lay vocation. Saturday afternoon was dedicated to First Confessions. After a thorough preparation, Fr Sebastian spent several hours hearing each candidate’s First Confession. There was not one candidate for whom this experience was not deeply moving. The joy and exhilaration in our group afterwards was palpable. At breakfast on Sunday morning, the laughter was contagious. This was a group we had felt never particularly ‘bonded’ – perhaps this was true on a natural level, but on a supernatural level, there was real communion. People who had previously been quiet and reserved came out of their shells. It was beautiful to see. What Confession can do!

So…on this topic, allow me to make three points:

1. Don’t become one of the (disturbingly numerous) parishes whose candidates do not go to Confession before being received – If we experience in our own lives the transformative and life-giving power of this sacrament of conversion, why fail to introduce it to those who are precisely in the most fundamental process of conversion?

2. Don’t downplay or minimise this sacrament in an effort to make it ‘easier’ or seem less intimidating – I’ve heard of people being told they don’t need to confess every sin. How very sad. This means that we’re allowing a person both to make an invalid Confession and to not experience the full impact of Jesus’ love and mercy which we receive when we empty our hearts fully of everything

3. We must be lovers of Confession and frequent this sacrament ourselves – As a catechist, how can I convey the love and mercy of Jesus in Confession unless I receive it regularly, frequently? I would suggest that as catechists, desiring to be the best witnesses of Christ that we can be, we should go at the very least once a month, if not fortnightly or weekly. Christ strongly desires for us to allow his love and power to work through us – so let’s keep getting rid of everything that stops it.

One woman, on the weekend, said that she couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t be at Confession every single week, it sounded so wonderful to her! This is the kind of response to Confession that the Holy Spirit can stir in a person’s heart… if we witness to it well.


A walk-through our Confirmation session…

Catechists love hearing about how other catechists or other parishes ‘do things’. In fact, although I’ve never done it, I would love, one day, just to sit in on another parish’s Confirmation programme as an observer.

So, I thought I’d tell you about one of the sessions we did recently. Each week follows roughly the same structure. This was the fifth session of the year (following the evangelisation retreat). The sequence of sessions so far has gone like this:

Made for God; The Dignity of the Human Person; Sin and Mercy; The Forgiveness of Sins (Baptism)

This session was the Forgiveness of Sins (Reconciliation). All of our candidates were prepared for making a good Confession on retreat; many of them had gone again since then. This session was designed to go more deeply into some of the themes. Here’s what we did…

We opened, as we always do, by creating the atmosphere of prayer with one or two songs of praise leading into a Liturgy of the Word (First Reading – Ezekiel 36, about receiving a new heart and a new spirit – followed by the Gospel – John 8, the woman caught in the act of adultery – proclaimed by the priest).

After the Liturgy of the Word, we have a proclamation (more on the proclamation can be seen here), summing up the main message of today’s session: Confession is one of the greatest graces we can receive again and again in our life. It renews the soul, completely unburdens it, and renews it with strength. God is merciful, and he wants us to claim his mercy.  (See YouCat 226). We then showed the video clip from the Passion of the Christ (don’t worry, none of the gory bits) of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene from being stoned to death and offering her new life.

Then comes the ten-minute teaching, the unpacking bit. Here (continuing from the previous week’s session on Baptism) we looked at why we continue to sin (the candidates learned the word ‘concupiscence’, the inclination to sin), seen in this woman (probably Mary Magdalene) who was caught committing adultery and brought before Jesus. To demonstrate this, we used a clean glass of water (again, this continued from the previous week’s session). This is what our soul is like after Baptism. But what happens? We sin. The candidates named some sins, and with each one, poured ketchup, tabasco sauce, and numerous other sauces into the water to make rather a disgusting concoction. This is what happens to our souls through sin – they become murky. The candidates looked up YouCat 226, which was followed by an evangelistic teaching of what happens in Confession – Jesus knows all of the mess in our souls, he knows what we’ve done. When we go to Confession, we meet him personally, tell him all of this, and tell him that we are sorry. It is like we are ‘un-nailing’ Christ from the Cross and receiving the love and mercy he wants to pour out on us.

A Crucifix in our church

Next, the candidates were invited to share with the person next to them what they thought teenagers found the hardest about going to Confession. We went through each of these one by one – telling your sins to someone is embarrassing; some sins are too bad to say; what if he recognises my voice?

This was followed by a young catechist giving his testimony about how he slipped into not going to Confession for years while he was a student, and the amazing experience of coming back to Jesus through this sacrament.

Then, we went into a practical small group activity where the candidates had to put pieces of paper into two lists: one relating to mortal sins, and one relating to venial sins. We talked about the kinds of sin which come under each category. Our emphasis here was on saying everything in Confession, even venial sins. But being aware that serious sins, knowingly and willingly committed, cut us off completely from God.

Finally, another young catechist performed a role play of Confession with the priest, giving examples of sins that a young person might confess, and demonstrating the words of the prayers that the candidates might not be too sure of.

We finished up with a time of prayer in the church: music, an examination of conscience, a Scripture reading, and an opportunity for the candidates to go to Confession.

This is a pretty typical session: we like to break it up with a variety of different activities and it takes one and a half hours.