Growing up, I was raised going to church almost every Sunday. Although neither of my parents were “die-hard” church goers, there was always a presence of God and religion in our lives. If not through my parents, then through school. I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten up to grade 13, and as such, was raised to observe the sacraments of the Catholic Religion; Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Communion and then Confirmation.
I’m not sure when, but somewhere along the lines, I started to question certain aspects of the religion. What I’m about to write is not to dispute anyone’s beliefs. I will preface this by saying that I am a believer in a higher power of which I call God. I believe in love and treating all of humanity with kindness. I believe in helping people and doing good; for myself, my family, my friends and for those that I have yet to meet, because I believe that we all have an obligation as spiritual beings to help one another along this journey we call life. We are all heading to the same place, and when I get there, I want God to recognize me for the light that he created in me.
As I sat in church on this particular evening, I watched as my children nervously awaited their turn to meet the priest for their First Reconciliation. For those that aren’t familiar with the Catholic religion, the sacrament of Reconciliation is where you confess your sins to Jesus and God, by way of speaking through a priest and asking for forgiveness. It was the one sacrament that not only scared me as a child, but confused me as well. Why did I have to speak to a priest? Why couldn’t I just deal directly with God? And if there is unconditional love from God, then why is there hell?
Leading up to this day, I caught myself constantly reminding my children that, no matter what they say or do, there is nothing that would ever make me (or God) stop loving them. I reminded them that they are perfectly imperfect, just the way God made them and that everyone sins. Essentially, I caught myself feeling very vulnerable and sensitive, to the point where I wanted to take them home to protect them…from what I’m not sure.
I started to reflect on my own experience with my First Confession. It felt like only yesterday I was waiting in line for my turn to see the priest and I can vividly remember how nervous I was. I already felt bad for my “sins”, and thought that when I prayed to God to apologize, that I was forgiven. But when I was introduced to Confession, the idea of me needing to confess to the priest, made me feel uncomfortable. What if he judged me? What if, once I confess my sins, the priest thinks I’m a horrible person? It “seemed” at the time, that the priest held all this power and that somehow, he could decide if God forgave me. It’s amazing how a child’s mind works, especially when there is no one there to correct their assumptions. Needless to say, it was probably my earliest experience of the Catholic religion that I can recall, that made me start looking at my world and my beliefs a little differently.
So why, you ask, would I have my children go through Confession if I didn’t believe in it myself? Simply, I want them to be the judge of what they believe in. And as it turns out, they wanted to go. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that not everyone shares the same experience or viewpoint as we do. My experience of confession was clearly not theirs. They didn’t have a problem with needing to confess through a priest. Their nervousness came from their fear of not remembering the right words to say, and had nothing to do with a fear of being judged. And, as it turns out, I chose to send them to a Christian based school, and so, it is expected that they would need to participate in these sacraments.
There are still things that I don’t fully believe or embrace about the Catholic religion but that doesn’t mean I’m not a believer in God. My children will need to create their own opinions and it’s my job as a parent, to expose them to enough experiences so that they can do just that. I believe that the most important thing we can do for our children is to create a space where they feel safe and comfortable to speak openly with us, and for us to listen and accept them, regardless of what we believe.
I confess that I may not be the best person to teach them about the Catholic religion but they will know about love, spirituality and the inter-connectedness that we all are to each other, and to God.
The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see. -Alexandra Trenfor.