In Your Midst


March 2003

“I’m really sorry when I hit my brother,” my 8-year-old son, Albert, told me.

“That’s good,” I responded. “And why are you sorry?”

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We were in the car, driving to St. James for Albert’s First Reconciliation, and I was eager to hear his perspective on this new Sacrament.

“Well,” Albert drew a deep breath. “I’m really sorry because I usually get beat up when I hit him!”

“But,” he continued, “I know it’s wrong and I need to say I’m sorry.”

Albert was one of 26 children who celebrated their First Reconciliation at St. James on Saturday, January 25th. The children had prepared during their Sunday Religious Education classes, learning with the help of their teachers how sorry God is when they do wrong, and exploring the idea of acknowledging their wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness.

We parents had gotten into the act as well, bonding during several morning workshops at which we shared stories about our families and our children, and discussed how forgiveness, reconciliation, and faith figure into family life.

Father Ryan leads the children in making the sign of the cross.

But today was the big day. And so with a group of subdued children, all a little nervous about what ‘reconciliation’ would really mean (how sorry did you have to be, after all, about breaking your brother’s GameBoy or kicking your sister?) we filed into the dimly lit Cathedral for the ceremony.

While the parents waited by the Baptismal font, Father Ryan, the teachers, and the children processed through the church singing. The children got to dip their hands in the Baptismal font and make the sign of the cross, and then talked with Father Ryan about their own baptisms and this next big step of acknowledging right and wrong.

Then, the children lined up in the vestibule for their reconciliation, each prepared with one “good thing” and one “bad thing” to tell, and each clutching a little slip of gold paper with a child-friendly version of the ‘Act of Contrition’ I remembered from my own childhood.

They were back quickly, all giggly and relieved that ‘fessing up’ to something they’d done hadn’t been that hard after all.

“It was easy,” Albert whispered to me confidently. “And I didn’t even say I didn’t want to get beat up; I just said I was really sorry.”

Children gathered to celebrate First Reconciliation sing “This little light of mine.”

Albert’s practicality is, in some ways, just the point. Reconciliation has always had an air of the practical about it. It’s a sacrament that is fundamentally about our relationships with others, and about how those relationships define everything, including, of course, our relationship with God. It’s not an easy thing to confess that we’ve done something wrong or to say that we’re sorry, but it is necessary if we are to live with other people. Few of us make it for any stretch of time without slipping up somehow.

Now, though, while they may slip up just as often, Albert and his classmates have a better vocabulary for forgiveness, and understand at least a bit of the theology that resides just beneath the practical whenever they say, “I’m sorry.” They’re ready to be a little more reflective about what they do. And they’re ready now to take another step as they prepare for First Communion, which they will celebrate this May.

In our family, the peace from First Reconciliation lasted all of about six hours till dinner that evening (which is not at all bad for a home with two boys!). But the deeper messages will stay with us much longer, reminding all of us of our responsibility to be reconciled when we’ve done wrong, to acknowledge what we’ve done, and then to ask for the help we need to move on.

And that—even though Albert will undoubtedly hit his big brother several more times before the week is over—is something.

Mary Bourguignon is a Cathedral parishioner and a religious education volunteer.

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