This year our older son will make his First Reconciliation (Penance, Confession). This sacrament involves an examination of your conscience and then a confession of your sins to a priest. My husband and I went to the parent meeting this morning. The very scattered, but in the end very wise, Religious Education Director asked us to go around in a circle (shudder, shudder) and share our experiences with this sacrament. I am a “cradle Catholic,” meaning born and raised. I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and even college. I cannot remember the last time I went to Confession.

As we went around the circle sharing our experiences, a common and very sad theme emerged. Few of us in that room had a positive experience with Reconciliation and only one parent continued to go regularly. Many of the people in the room were in my age cohort and our early, formative experiences of church and sacrament were focused on shame, guilt, and fear. One woman shared that her first Confession was so awful that she is still getting over it. Oy.

Almost all of my early experiences in church were focused on things that I had done wrong (shame). I had chosen to sin (guilt). I had made God angry with my bad choices (talk about fear! Yikes!). At my grade school, we had to carry a discipline folder at all times. It had one piece of paper in it and one piece only. The color of that paper changed every quarter. If you committed some sort of infraction, you were given a check on your discipline sheet. Ten checks equaled a major, which equaled a detention. Not having your folder was check-worthy. What the what? The focus, as I remember it, was punitive. The focus was on doing wrong, not on striving to do better.

Somehow I managed to never get a detention. Although in sixth grade, I dropped the F bomb at recess, which should have been an automatic major, but the teacher took mercy on me and instead, reamed into me in the hallway so all my peers could hear. That was uplifting and life-giving.

My #oneword2014 is risk. I am taking a big personal risk here and for the first time publicly calling out the church. You failed us. You failed an entire generation of young people who are now trying to raise our children in the same faith that failed us. You taught us to live in fear. You taught us that we were beings who needed fixing, not gifts that could be polished or refined or shone for a greater, higher purpose.

I made my first confession in second grade. Everyone did. It was just the hoop that you went through. The only things I remember from that day are: one of my classmates bawling his eyes out because he was so nervous and me making up some story about not eating my vegetables and disobeying my parents. I have no idea what I wore, how long it lasted, or how many times I have gone to Confession since then. Clearly a formative experience that stuck.

In my time to share, I stated that I could not remember the last time I went to confession. Yet, I feel deeply connected to the Eucharist and we attend Mass regularly as a family. Both of these are true. I love going to church and I love going to our church in particular. It feeds me, literally and spiritually. I love the music, the sense of community, the diversity.

I started the meeting with a chip on my shoulder, thinking that L would jump through this Reconciliation hoop too and then that would probably be the end of it. I don’t go to Confession. I don’t need to because I confess my sins before I go to Communion. I pray for forgiveness and strength, daily. Isn’t that a confession of sorts? As the meeting progressed, the Religious Ed Director shared her own experiences with the sacrament. She joined the church as an adult and said, “I feel very fortunate that my own formation was so positive.” She then shared a new analogy for the sacrament. She encouraged us to think about it like you would a relationship with a personal trainer. You don’t go and get beat up because you ate a doughnut or didn’t work out. You go to make improvements, to get better, more fit. Confession is not a program about what you did wrong. It’s about a clean slate so you can be the best version of yourself.

Whoa! What a refreshing and life-giving idea! Talk about a complete paradigm shift from the lessons I learned as second grader in 198…. What a wonderful way to think about this sacrament. She then encouraged us to think about going to Confession regularly (whatever that looks like for you personally). If we go, then our children will go. If you only do something once, “it won’t stick” she said. And, they will value it even less because there was no purpose or meaning behind it.

Gut check.

I grew up in a household where one parent’s motto was “Do as I say, not as I do.” I often feel that this was the motto of the church in which I was raised as well. This is hypocritical at best and the first violation of good parenting. Children will see everything you do and remember very little of what you say. Yet, when I acted in a way that was consistent with what I observed, I was shamed and made to feel less than. I do not want that for my own children. If I am going to require that they invest time in the sacraments, then I must as well. Do as I do, not as I say.

So, in keeping with my #oneword2014, I will be going to Confession. Soon.

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