It isn’t easy to explain what a Confession is to a child. It isn’t easy because it isn’t easy to explain what the concept of Sin is to them. Yet it is fundamental for a child’s growth as a human being, and as a Christian, that they understand what it means to sin, and even more, what it means to be able to confess one’s sins to God, who is infinitely kind and merciful.
In fact, the fundamental question of Confession resides in this: to be aware that, although we may be marked by large and small faults, God the Father is ready to forgive us if we show genuine repentance. This isn’t trivial. Children who grow up with threats like: “Don’t do this because it is a sin”, but without anyone taking the trouble to explain to them what a genuine sin is, and what consequences entail, may pick up an incorrect vision of God, imagining him as a cruel presence who is ready to arbitrarily punish anyone who makes a mistake. In fact, some children tend to exaggerate their sense of guilt, even for the tiniest of shortcomings, and to live their own age badly.
God loves us all.
Probably the first thing that you can make a child understand is that God is good, He created everything beautiful and perfect for us, and sacrificed his only son Jesus for our sakes. How could such a good and generous Father condemn us without the possibility of appeal?
Indeed, God is always ready to welcome us back into his arms, in the same way the father welcomed his younger son back in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, proving that no fault was really serious in the face of Love.
God is love, and therefore, God forgives. In the hearts of men there is a seed of Evil that cannot be destroyed by anyone, not even by God. Yet he has never given up on us, since the dawn of time. He tried to cleanse the world of evil people with the Flood, but seeing that it was useless, sent his prophets to preach about Goodness, and in the end, sent his own Son, Jesus, to show men the pathway to Love. Because the only way to help men to be better is to show them the way of goodness, and convert them to it. God has done, and continues to do, everything for us, even if we continue to offend him with our bad deeds, and our bad thoughts. Fortunately for us, his Mercy is infinite, and his ability to forgive is endless.
Sin is the evil of the world.
Sin exists, and we are all subject to it. Adam and Eve committed it first, and transmitted it to all their descendants. Unfortunately, because of this first mistake, we are all born marked by sin, and the sin of turning away from God. It is important to learn to recognise it, and to be aware of its effects in the world.
To do this, you can show a child how everything bad that happens in the world is the fruit of sin, and that these bad deeds bring terrible consequences, not only for individuals, but for everyone. A good system could be to start from a vision of how the world was before sin, by illustrating to a child the uncontaminated nature, harmony and happiness that reigned among all of God’s creatures, the happiness and the absence of the pain that Adam and Eve experienced. Later, you can show him or her how the real world actually is, perhaps by quoting news stories, explaining what is going on in the world, how much suffering afflicts human beings everywhere: wars, violence and accidents. By bringing these two worlds, which are so different, into comparison, a question will arise spontaneously: why does God allow all of this to happen?
The answer is in the Bible: Evil has arrived in the world because of man.
A man who lives in sin, and who shows that he does not appreciate the gifts of God, and proclaims that he wants to be God himself. That is what Adam and Eve did. The original sin was not in the theft of the forbidden apple, but in openly challenging God, not limiting himself to listening to his warnings, but pretending to be on his own, to being like him. That is what we do every time we commit a sin. We believe ourselves to be smarter than God, we believe ourselves to be superior to him, and we behave badly, and in full knowledge that we are wrong. When we do it we are not happy, we are not comfortable with ourselves, because we are perfectly aware that certain things are wrong. It’s like when we tell a lie and then we are afraid of being discovered, or when we do a bad deed and we live in the anguish that our mother will find out and punish us. God is much better than our own mother at knowing when we have done something wrong, and even if he loves us as much, or more than she does, and is willing to forgive us, he wants us to admit our guilt first, and to sincerely apologise.
That is why he created Confession.
What is the purpose of Confession?
Once a child has understood the existence of sin, and the goodness of God, we must make them understand how they can deserve forgiveness. This can be achieved by teaching a child how to perform an examination of conscience. Or, after a day of studying, games and activities, when the child is alone in their room, to invite them to consider their actions during the day that has just ended, what they have done, what they have not done, and what they should have done. It is an examination that must be made with sincerity and honesty, in full awareness that God knows very well how we have behaved. But this is a thing we need, to understand if and where we were wrong, to realize that we could have done more. At this point we apologise to the Lord with a prayer, and the next day we try to do better, and so on, day after day.
That is the first step towards a Confession.
Confession is in fact a kind of examination of conscience, but done aloud in front of a priest, at the end of which you admit your mistakes and declare that you do not want to make any more of them. It isn’t enough just to say that we are sorry: we must show that we have a heart full of repentance and the willingness to do well, in the future; only in this way will God forgive us.
Confession is essential for obtaining God’s forgiveness, and for getting closer to him. It is a sacrifice, an act of humility. It isn’t easy to admit our mistakes. It is not easy to recognise that we are wrong, even when it is very obvious. Men are made like that, they are proud, big guys. But God loves them for this as well, and precisely because he knows them well, and knows how they are made, he appreciates it even more when they are willing to give in, and to ask for forgiveness. God doesn’t want to punish us, he doesn’t want to condemn us: he just wants to forgive, and to save us. He doesn’t stop loving us even when we’ve behave badly, let alone when we recognise it and we apologise! Then he is the proudest and the happiest of Fathers! He embraces us, comforts us, and our life suddenly becomes even more beautiful and special. It is as if the wind sweeps away the grey clouds from the sky, and everything turns blue, bright and luminous. That is how we are after a Confession.