How do you prepare your children to receive the sacraments? What challenges might we face during a pandemic? And how might it affect our roles as parents?
For all our kids before, being part of a parish and the school community, it was a collaborative effort between pastors, teachers, and parents. Everyone helped out. This was the case for my first two daughters. They prepared to receive the sacraments with their classmates and we prepared at home. The parish arranged rehearsals and there was a community celebration on the day. Our extended family also celebrated with us.
This year, for my third daughter Sophie, COVID-19 changed the experience altogether.
At first, we weren’t sure if she would get to make her first confession or receive her first Holy Communion. She definitely wouldn’t get to experience it beside her classmates. The celebration would probably be limited to just our immediate family. It got me thinking about what would be most important for Sophie to experience, secondary of course to the sacrament itself.
I remember a few meaningful moments that I had with our older girls. After making their first confession we celebrated with treats at McDonald’s with ice cream and fries. Why? I’m reminded of the line from Luke 15, “there will be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner.” I want to help bring heaven into my kid's lives. So treats are a big part of our celebration every time we go to confession, not just the first.
For them, we also took their list of sins, known only to themselves and God, and we lit them on fire in our backyard. This was to symbolize God’s forgiveness they experienced in the sacrament of confession. They’ve kept that tradition, and they still look forward to setting their list on fire whenever they go to confession.
I realized that no matter what circumstance surrounds Sophie’s first sacraments I could be there as a father to delight in her and to make it memorable and meaningful. I could celebrate God’s mercy and forgiveness.
As a child, it can be hard to comprehend the importance and spiritual depth of the sacraments.
I also don't want her to just think that it’s just something Catholic kids do. If I can delight in her personally and celebrate forgiveness, then perhaps her relationship with God can also be one that is personal and full of mercy.
COVID restrictions have eased somewhat now and the school and parish opened the opportunity for Sophie to make her first confession. When we went to the church we had to line up 6 feet apart outside of the front door. When we were let in, Sophie was guided towards the confessional where she made her first confession. Vanessa and I waited just outside and when Sophie was done we had a moment in the church, all to ourselves to pray and to thank God. The experience of being in the church on our own was personal and intimate. God was there just for Sophie!
This unique time gave us all the opportunity to approach the sacraments with a newfound sense of gratitude and meaning. COVID removed part of the process that felt like just going through the motions. We weren't just told that Sophie's first confession would be on a specific date and time. We were asked if this would like Sophie to receive the sacrament.
We had to think about the sacrament in a new way. It gave us a chance to pause and consider, why is it important to do this? Why does God desire this for us?
We got to rediscover confession as the “visible signs of God’s invisible grace”. This is the same opportunity for all of us, especially in our return to mass as parishes open can be a rediscovery. There is an invitation to consider the gift of worshiping God and to approach it with an entirely new sense of gratitude and new meaning.
Sophie loved her treat and lit her first list on fire. At the heart of the sacraments is a God who personally loves us, and she got to experience that in a profound way. Even though COVID-19 has changed our circumstances, we can still receive the sacraments and the grace that comes with it.