Friday, March 29, 2019 - Updated: 1:36 pm
QUESTION: My son is a third-grader and attends our parish CCD program. He came home yesterday and told me that all the children in his class went to confession. That got me thinking about whether it is appropriate for the Catholic Church to emphasize confession for children in the lower grades. Really, how sinful is a third-grader?
ANSWER: The mission of Jesus was to reconcile the human race with God. Therefore, reconciliation is at the heart of the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim. Scripture speaks beautifully of this notion in parables such as “the prodigal son.” Unfortunately, the concept of reconciliation gets lost when we speak only of “confession.” The confession of sin is only the beginning of a process that ends with forgiveness.
Having said that, we might ask whether it is appropriate for children (the age of 8 or 9) to receive this sacrament. Some might contend that they cannot sin seriously and, therefore, why “put them through all that?”
Some parents, however, would argue children that age can sin and are capable of deeds that have serious consequences. In any case, there is another matter at stake here. Long before that child can articulate the importance of the food groups for daily diet, parents will ensure that he or she gets the right nutrients. Why? Because parents realize that some things are important to a child for reasons that the child cannot completely comprehend at an early age.
So, too, in sharing our religious lives. As early as possible, children must be encouraged to understand that certain things are right and others are wrong, and that each action has consequences affecting themselves and others. It is generally accepted that children at an early age should understand the importance of saying “I’m sorry” when actions they perform have hurt someone else (intentionally or not).
If all that is true, why then would we not want to introduce a child to the sacramental means of the forgiveness of Christ and reconciliation with God that is offered in the sacrament of reconciliation? Would we want to deprive a child of the same avenue open to others?
There are important cautions that need to be addressed in celebrating this sacrament so that children appreciate the important aspect of reconciliation and not get lost in an overemphasis on the mechanics of saying the correct prayers at the correct time. But that is handled very well by most parents and religious educators today.
Should a child be forced to go to confession? No, that is not a good approach. But a child clearly should be prepared to receive the sacrament of forgiveness. The most significant means by which a child is led to this sacrament is by seeing his or her parents and family celebrate it. An injustice is done when parents demand of their children what they themselves are unwilling to do. Being gently led to this sacrament early in life will enable the child to know of its presence when the need for it is stronger later in life.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.