“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.