The season of Advent is a time of preparation, not only in anticipation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas as a child, but also to draw our attention to the need to prepare for His second coming. In the readings from Holy Mass, Christ tells us be watchful and prepare our hearts for His coming. One way to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord is to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about Sacraments in general, “a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words” (CCC, 1153).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is just that, an encounter with the mercy of the Father. It is a tangible sign of God's desire to reach out to us throughout our lives, even in our sinfulness, and help us reconcile ourselves with him and grow in our relationship with Him.
Preparing for the Sacrament
There are several ways families can prepare for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
You as Parents are the first role models of forgiveness for your children, both inside and outside the home. You have a unique opportunity to model mercy, grace, and forgiveness as you say you are sorry, ask forgiveness of one another, and forgive each other.
Practice "penance" in the home. When hurts have occurred between family members, encourage them to do something to help repair the relationship. For example, the big brother who let playful teasing progress to bullying may be required to do something extra nice for the sibling he offended.
Be a good example. It is critical that, as children learn about God's laws, they see their parents working to follow them faithfully. For example, when children learn that the third Commandment (to keep the Sabbath day holy) means, for Catholics, going to Mass every Sunday, children can become confused if their parents are choosing not to go to Mass. This puts children in a very difficult dilemma, in which they must choose between believing their parents are in sin or that God's laws do not really matter.
Help children see connections between God's Commandments and their everyday actions. For example, point out when they are honoring their mother and father and when they are not. Challenge them to see the connection between the tenth Commandment (not coveting neighbor's goods) and showing gratitude, rather than jealousy, towards a sibling.
Have a family "examination of conscience," in which, as a family, you discuss ways in which you have shown love to God and other people and ways in which you need to grow. Using a child-friendly explanation of the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes can be helpful for this activity.
As a family, pray the Act of Contrition and other traditional Catholic prayers. Choose a different prayer each night, and pray just before bedtime, or pray a prayer in the car on the way to or from school or errands.
Let kids see you, and other family members, such as older siblings, going to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Steps for making a good Confession
1. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to know your sins. (Prayer before Confession)
2. Examine your conscience. (Examination of Conscience) (Examination of Conscience for Teens) (Examination of Conscience for Adults)
3. Express in prayer your sorrow for having committed these sins; pray for the help to be truly sorry.
4. Resolve not to commit these sins again and to avoid the situations that lead to sin.
5. Confess your sins to the priest. (Act of Contrition)
6. Complete the penance the priest gives you as soon as possible.
Resources from: Catechism of the Catholic Church; USCCB