Catholic Family

Kate Kelleher Junk’s daughter received her First Reconciliation on Jan. 28, which helped to rekindle the enthusiasm the family has for the sacrament. (Submitted photo)

My daughter received her First Reconciliation in January, and it caused me to reflect on the ways I have approached this sacrament over the years. For too long, I fear, I treated it like going to the dentist. I’d go a couple of times a year, more if something was really bothering me, but it was more of a back-burner chore than an actual practice.

As much as we celebrate the Sacrament of First Reconciliation, it’s important to celebrate the subsequent ones as well. As our Lord explained to St. Faustina: “Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of my mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from my heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself in my mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of my grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul.” (“Divine Mercy in My Soul”)

I know many people associate the sacrament with guilt and self-flagellation, but really, that is not how I have ever experienced it, and Pope Francis stresses that is not how it should be.

“I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 44)

I cannot tell you how many priests I have heard say that they love hearing confessions. Not because they enjoy sitting in judgment, but because they truly want to free you from the burden of sin. There is joy in bringing us back into the fold.

“When he celebrates the sacrament of penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1465)

Remember, Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing.

I have never received anything but compassion in a confessional. I remember as an awkward, unpopular teenager, confessing to my childhood pastor, Fr. John Krebs, that I had been struggling with feelings of jealousy. Before assigning my penance, which I don’t remember, he looked at me with genuine care and forced me to see myself as the beloved child of God I was. Why would I be jealous of another’s good when I have so much good in myself? Countless priests over 30 years have brought this same love and peace to my heart every single time I have asked for it.

I thought there could be few things that could feel better than the love of Christ, poured out to me through his holy priests, until I saw the sacrament through the eyes of my children.

When my oldest was 4 or 5 years old, our parish was blessed to have a new associate pastor who was so passionate about reconciling everyone he could to Christ that he offered confessions after almost every Mass. It got me back in the habit of going regularly, and my naturally curious, precocious little boy asked what I was doing in there. I said something to the effect of “well, when I go in there, Father helps me say I’m sorry to God.” (Not a perfect explanation, because I hadn’t yet breached the whole in persona Christi topic, but it got him to pipe down long enough to walk out to the narthex without disrupting the other faithful.)

A few weeks later, he asked the priest if he could go say sorry to God. Before long, this became a habit. Door open, no absolution, of course, but I saw a spark in my child and wanted to do my best not to snuff it out. He bounced out of that confessional happily each time, so I thanked the Holy Spirit and just kept rolling with it.

Of course, like so many wonderful things, we lost this habit during the pandemic.

So, when my daughter’s First Reconciliation rolled around, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get us back in the swing of things.

I’m proud to say we celebrated her second confession just two weeks ago. We went as a family, giving lots of hugs and telling our kids we were proud of them. We told them that if they ever wanted to go some time when we weren’t already going, we would happily bring them and not ask why.  Every time they ask forgiveness, they are becoming holier. They are living as the “small s” saints God has created them to be. We’re new to this “parenting kids who can receive sacraments” thing, so I don’t have any profound suggestions for your kids. In fact, I welcome any you have for mine.

If it’s been a while since you or your kids have found yourselves in the confessional, I encourage you to take part in the 12 Hours of Reconciliation on Wednesday, March 29. Area priests will be available for reconciliation at 11 parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.