Before Nicole Hall died she wrote three books for her grandchildren about her love for the Catholic faith. We publish an extract from the first So, you are going to make your first Confession. That means that you are going to receive forgiveness for your sins from Almighty God Himself.
Up to now, when you have been naughty you have said “sorry” and been forgiven, usually by mummy and daddy.
The Church thinks you are now grown-up enough to understand that every sin which we commit offends not only those we hurt on earth, but also offends our Father who is in heaven. He made us, and we are all His beloved children.
So, the Sacrament of Confession is wonderful, because it brings us the forgiveness of our Eternal Father.
In this way, you are about to take your first step in your own spiritual life. This is a journey through life, in the sight of God. At the end of that journey, when you die, if you have loved God and obeyed His Church, you will go to God and live with Him in perfect joy forever.
There are, as you know, seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, ordained by Jesus to help us through life. When you were baptised as a baby, God’s grace flooded your soul. At that time you were far too tiny to realise or remember it. So, that first “step” was taken for you, by your parents and godparents.
Confession, then, is the very first sacrament, which we are all old enough to understand and remember. This makes our first Confession very special.
Just imagine that you are feeling tired, miserable, dirty, and uncomfortable, with a sore throat and a headache. You are trudging along a road, wishing so much that you could get home to your loving family for a hot bath and tea. Then right in front of you there appears a gleaming white fluffy cloud reaching to the ground. You walk through it and – suddenly – you are also dazzling white, feel totally different, you feel at home and loved, so well and full of energy that you could jump for pure joy. You feel “perfect”.
Well, it is not your body I am talking about, but your soul. That is just my way of imagining what we cannot see. I bet you can think of a better one. You cannot see your soul. But our souls are much more important than our bodies, which one day will die. Your soul is the part of you, which is like God and can never die. God gave you that precious soul before your little body was born, and you must take the greatest care of it. Everybody, grown-ups and children, commit sins. We all do things, sometimes, which we are sorry for afterwards, because they have hurt or angered our family or friends. Of course, we can make it up to anyone we have hurt by saying we are sorry and doing something specially helpful and kind.
It is more important, though, to realise that our sins offend, or hurt, Almighty God. We need to say “sorry” to Him, too, for the little sins we commit. These harm our soul, His precious gift to us. That is why we have the Sacrament of Penance.
In my day, at school, we all went to Confession every two weeks. This was not because we had done terrible things, but just for the grace the sacrament gives.
Nowadays people do not go so often, which is a pity. I hope that in your lifetime more people will go more often to Confession, because Jesus, who loves us and wants what is best for us, gave us this sacrament, especially for our good.
The grace that you gained from the Sacrament of Baptism is called “sanctifying grace”. To sanctify is to make holy. This is the special grace, which makes you the child of God enjoying His very special friendship. Every sacrament adds to this. I know it is hard to understand, for grown-ups as well as for children, but by “sanctifying grace”, we mean the actual life of God in our own souls. What a thought!
All the other countless ways in which God helps us on the road to heaven are forms of what we call “actual grace”. So, for example, without “actual grace” it would be impossible for anyone who had rejected sanctifying grace (by serious sin) ever to get it back, to recover God’s friendship.
We are baptised as babies in order to remove “original” sin, that of Adam and Eve, which all members of the human race inherit. There are also the “actual” sins we all personally commit. These are called just that – “actual” sins.
There are two kinds of “actual” sins we can commit. Most of us only commit “venial”, or small, sins. But occasionally people commit “mortal” sins, which are very serious as they kill that special sanctifying grace of God in our souls. Mortal sins are the real baddies, like murder. If you had committed a “mortal” sin, I think you would know it.
But our generous God does not withhold all His grace, “actual”, remember, even from those who have committed a mortal sin. Otherwise, we would never have the grace to repent or to be sorry.
We must remember, though, that it is a serious sin to miss Mass on Sundays or Holy Days through our own fault. If we are ill or in a foreign country and cannot find the church in time then we are not guilty of sin.
If, though, you know you are just going to be away from home over a weekend, perhaps staying with a non-Catholic friend, you should plan in advance, and find out the place and Mass times of the local Catholic church, and warn the friend that you will be going.
Venial sins should be confessed regularly. If we neglect the Sacrament of Penance, these “venial” sins could lead to a habit of us not being careful of our behaviour. This in turn could make it more likely that we might commit a “mortal” sin. The three kinds of sin are: sins against God, sins against our neighbour (other people) and sins against ourselves. It is funny to think we can sin against ourselves, isn’t it? But when we tell lies, for example, we sin first against God, second against the person we lie to, and third we harm and diminish ourselves by this sin, which is unworthy of us as children of God.
We should think about the kinds of sins we have committed while we are preparing before going into Confession. Let me give you one example of each. If you spoke of God in a disrespectful way; that would be a sin directly against God. If you hurt another child, that would be a sin against your neighbour. Of course it is possible to offend a sensitive or difficult person without intending to, and in that case, you would not necessarily be offending God.
If you went off on your own in a sulk, that would be sinning against others who might be upset by your behaviour, but also it would be sinning against yourself, because it is “selfish” behaviour, which means you are thinking only of yourself and not of others. This makes you a lesser person.
When we say our night prayers, we should for a moment remember the day and say sorry to God for anything we might have done which is unworthy of His love. Sacraments are often described as “outward signs”, or signs we can see, of hidden things which we cannot see. We cannot of course actually “see” our soul, or the grace, which the Sacraments give to it.
So, while we know very well what we are doing outwardly and can hear the words pronounced by the priest, at the same time all sorts of wonderful things are happening to us inside, which we cannot see but need to know about.