Thinking Aloud: Young Faith

As I mentioned yesterday, Flora is going to be receiving her First Holy Communion this spring.

This is an exciting time is the evolution of her faith, although, let’s face it: She probably doesn’t know that yet.

Confession (ha!): I don’t remember my first reconciliation (commonly known as confession or penance) or my First Holy Communion. I do remember a set of children’s Bibles I got at the time (Old Testament and New Testament, naturally). I read the heck out of those Bibles. They were written to my level, and they were GREAT stories.

As most 7 and 8 years olds do, Flora has a pretty simple, straightforward view of God and religion. Her faith is absolute. God exists (probably because Mom and Dad and most of the other people she knows say God exists), and being bad gets you in trouble. Be good so you don’t get in trouble. (This probably goes for more than just spiritually.)

Before she receives First Holy Communion, Flora will receive her first reconciliation. Right now, I’m pretty focused on making that anxiety-free for her. It’s tricky. She’s 8. It’s not as if she has a lot of major sins on her plate to confess. I don’t remember being anxious about it — but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t. (Mom, Dad, any memories of this?)

When they had the parents’ meeting about reconciliation, they had some tips about it. There was also a nifty historical lesson by our deacon that I enjoyed. My Catholic school days are far behind me, and if I knew some of the stuff he talked about, I had forgotten it.

I plan to talk to Flora about confession, and how it’s meant to make her closer to God. I’m not going to focus on the “everyone’s a sinner” aspect of religion at this point. One of the ideas I had was to run through the Ten Commandments with her, and have her base her confession on them.

The deacon talked about the Seven Deadlies, but I think those are too advanced for Flora. “Sins,” he said, “are the perversion of natural needs and desires.” (I’m paraphrasing, but it was an interesting way to look at sin.) Hence the Ten Commandments idea.

I don’t want these sacraments to provoke anxiety in Flora. I don’t want her to hear, “You are bad, and this is why you have to do this.” Being closer to God is an occasion of joy.

As part of her preparation for these sacraments, I have been working harder to take her to Mass each Sunday. (Confession: I don’t make Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Confession: I need to go to confession.) For one, because it’s important for me to go to Mass. For two, because it’s important that I set a good example for Flora. And for three, because it’s important that Flora learn that it’s about more than sitting there being bored. Mass gives us a structure in which to offer ourselves to God (in thanks, in despair, in need, in hope).

At some point (well, I hope), Flora will realize why Mass is important, why religion and faith are important in general. And it’s not that we practice our faith or are good people because if we don’t we’re “bad” and we will be punished.

As faithful adults, we go to church, and obey the commandments, and are in general good, moral, and ethical people because we love God. We want to do what pleases and glorifies him — not for us, and not so we don’t go to Hell — but because we love him.

Please note, I am not saying you have to be religious to be a good, moral, and ethical person. There are plenty of crappy religious people (who are probably depending too much on the “But I believe in God!” strategy to get them through) and lots of very kind and good agnostic and atheist people. The absence of religion doesn’t make you a terrible person; the practice of religion by itself doesn’t make you a good person.

For me (and I’ve said it before), my Catholic faith and its practice is a source of peace and strength. I have my issues with the Catholic church. But the core message of love that I get from Jesus and God is worth the struggles with their representatives on Earth.

Do you remember your First Holy Communion or Reconciliation? How are you going to help your kids understand them (if you have kids)?

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8 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud: Young Faith

  1. My kid made her FHC two years ago. I am not sure I prepared her for it in any special way. At that point, she attended mass most weeks, plus at school, and I was hoping the latter was giving her a good basis. But in the time since, we have talked about God, faith, communion, the importance of going to church (and she now goes every week/Holy Day), etc. Let’s face it, the priest turning the water into Jesus’s blood and bread/wafer into Jesus’s body is not the easiest thing to comprehend or accept, no matter your age, but I doubt that most second graders have any real clue. I think just having an open dialogue about God, religion, etc., is important. My kid knows I don’t have all the answers and that I struggle too.

    I think the school did a good job of preparing her for her First Penance, but since then she does not like to go. She goes twice a year at school, and she seems okay during those times (I happened to have been there a few times), but she gets worked up when I go at other times and won’t go with me. I don’t push it, and I think I have said some things similar to what you are/have.

    I seem to vaguely remember my First Penance. I am sad to say that I got more out of it as a child than an adult. I also remember that when I first tasted the communion, I was surprised/disappointed. I had no practice wafer, and I think I expected it to be “magical” if that makes any sense.

    You mentioned hell. I am not sure I have ever talked to my kid about that, and I don’t know what they discuss in school. My kid, like a lot of 9-year-olds, sometimes worries about dying and what will happen. I tell her that if we do our best to be a good person and do the right thing, then we should make it into heaven. She knows I don’t know that will necessarily be true, but as I explain to her often, that is a lot of what faith is, seeing without believing.

    Sorry for the long comment. Brevity is not one of my strong suits.

    • Oh, I don’t really talk about hell with my kids, and so far, I haven’t had to navigate that question. We pretty much talk about everything openly, including God and religion, and so on. I’m excited for her first reconciliation and FHC. And, yeah, there are just some questions that are too hard to answer. I recently had one about how God could have always existed. That was a stumper.

  2. Growing up Episcopalian, we had our first communion at an older age. I want to say it was like 6th grade. This is probably because they aren’t as concerned about the confession thing and thus, weren’t as concerned with us remaining in our “sin” for a couple more years. It was more important that we were old enough to understand it. That’s a laugh. Like you can ever fully understand it.

    I remember it as a mystical time. Let’s face it. When you are a kid, your parents are God. They are your provider, your protector, your law-giver, your wisdom, and your conscience. I remember first communion as a time when I began to venture outside of a relationship with my parents and started to go to God for those things. And to see Jesus as my lawyer (advocate in Scripture), allowing my imperfection to stand before a holy God. I remember the air in the sanctuary just seeming “holier” than anywhere else.

    Granted I’m non-Catholic, but I wouldn’t center things on the sin issue as much as an exciting first field trip into the realm of the supernatural, with all the reverence, awe, and submission that requires.

    • Goodness, I’m so fallible, I would be embarrassed to be thought of like God by my kids, although I supposed that could happen. ;)

      Yes, I like the idea of the supernatural and treating it with awe and reverence. I’m going to borrow that!

  3. I don’t clearly remember my first confession, but I DO remember going to confession in 3rd grade during school (yay catholic school!). Monsignor Birch was doing it, and I stumbled over the Act of Contrition, and being a perfectionist, I froze. And then he YELLED at me! Well I don’t know if he yelled at me, but at the very least he scolded me in a Not Very Nice Way. I stumbled through the rest of the sacrament, but was mortified and upset about it. Note to priests: there’s really no need to be mean to a 3rd grader who screws up the Act of Contrition.

  4. I don’t remember my First Communion (although I’ve come across a number of pictures lately) but I DO remember having terrible anxiety about Confession…back then it was confession. and i am pretty sure we did it before first communion. I was all like “what if I forget something?” and the confessionals were SO DARK. I could not wait to get out of there!! Although that was preferable to confession face to face with monsignor and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown! I also remember once crying during a reading of the passion one palm Sunday. and my mother looking at me like I was crazy. It was about the same time…second or third grade, I think. Maybe it was all the old school nuns and catechism in my school, but I found catholocism to be really SCARY a lot of the time. Needless to say I did not stick with it, and I irreverently refer to myself as a “recovering” catholic :) no offense, RPM. These days I gravitate toward buddhism, which I discovered reading more about the practice of yoga. It makes sense to me…and I do believe we are all connected. I love the lessons of love and respect for ALL.

    • No offense taken, my dear. I regularly cry now at church, and The Passion usually gets me. It’s not because I’m sad, necessarily (although sometimes I am) but because I am *moved*.

      The priest actually mentioned the confessionals, too, saying that they are well lighted now. He definitely knew his audience!

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