Mary Bernadette, my second grade daughter, and I were nestled in the church pew listening to the instructions on how to proceed so that all 150 children might receive their First Reconciliation in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We were there for Mary, as she was one of the 150 children, and as I sat watching the setting sun dance across the walls of the church, the light colored a buttery yellow I found comforting, I couldn't believe we were here and now was her time.
"Do you remember what you say when you go?" I whispered.
"Not really," she said, and shrugged her shoulders.
I immediately thought about my oldest two children, Patrick and Meaghan. In the weeks prior to their First Reconciliation, I reviewed with them ad nauseum the proper Confessional techniques.
She's my middle child, and like a typical middle kid, my proper First Reconciliation prep work with her had slipped through the cracks.
I tried not to panic.
You really don't know? Didn't your teacher review this?" I asked. "You've been studying the Act of Contrition. You know that, right?"
She shrugged again, not at all daunted about the task before her.
"I know the prayer, but I don't know what I say when I go in. Can you tell me?"
"Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first Confession," I said in hushed tones. "Can you remember that? It's easy. Bless me Father, for I have sinned."
She looked at me, nodded and turned her attention back to the altar.
"Are you nervous?" I asked, while the lady continued to give instructions.
It was true; She didn't seem at all frightened.
A few minutes later she leaned over and whispered,
"What is it I say again?"
I reminded her and she nodded and I tried to quell my mother guilt, my feeling of
I have failed this child by not adequately preparing her for her first reconciliation.
After the prayers and the gospel reading, we were instructed to get in line. Someone had taped six different colored construction paper hearts around the church, each colored heart corresponding with a heart pinned to one of the six priests. Mary and I sought out the sign with the blue heart on it and we waited while the priest spoke to the each and every child in a makeshift confessional situated out in the open.
I could easily see the children sitting before the priest, a Benedictine Monk in a black habit who sported a beard as white as Santa Claus's. As each child spoke his or her sins, the monk leaned in to listen and then he spoke ever so softly to the child. After a few minutes, it was Mary's turn to go. The lady directing the line signaled her and Mary walked towards the priest.
I watched her as she walked away from me and left me standing alone in the line, her blond hair gleaming in the sunlight that poured through the windows and her soft brown boots clipping the marble floors, and I thought,
It's between you and God, kid. All these years, I've brought you
, but now it's up to you.
It's funny, in parenting you spend so much time teaching and preparing your children for life, for basics things like good hygiene and manners and then other important things like values and faith.
And then, all of a sudden, one day your kids are supposed to actually
what you've been training them to do. They're supposed to walk out into the world and be good and upright and moral human beings.
We parents spend our entire time teaching and talking and professing to our children what's right but one day those kids are going to actually have to
to do it. We can't make them or strong arm them or implement any other tactical measure to get them to do the right thing. They have to decide.
The other night, as Mary went forward to receive her First Reconciliation, I felt consoled by this thought.
John and I can bring Mary to Christ through the Sacraments, through family prayer, through religious education classes, and through acting as good, albeit imperfect, witnesses. We can work with all our might to expose her to the Catholic faith, to teach her the only life worth meaning is one where God is our best friend, but at the end of the day, it's up to her.
I pray she chooses well. Honestly? I would be devastated if Mary (or any one of my children) decided to leave her faith.
But in the final analysis, it will be between Mary and God. It was never between Mary and me anyway.