This weekend, we celebrate one of those milestone moments in the Sacramental journey of life: First Reconciliation. I am sure many of us can remember the very first time we participated in what we imagined to be the most intimidating experiences of our young lives. I can certainly recall that “fateful” day back when I was in the 4th grade, standing in line with my other nervous classmates of St. Cajetan Grammar School, waiting to enter “the box,” all the while rehearsing in my mind what I was going to tell the priest. I stood with a certain amount of fear as I watched the little light over the door illumine on-and-off as each “first timer” entered and exited this unknown domain. The confessional box was cold, dark, and intimidating; it all seemed to fit just right with my tremendous feelings of dread as I approached this moment. I was very much afraid and not sure how I would get through this scary experience. And yet, much to my surprise, after experiencing the sacrament of Reconciliation for the very first time with Fr. Dillon, I felt great. I did it! I had the courage to admit my faults and where I had “missed the mark.” And ever since that first time many years ago, I have always felt great, or at least a lot better and even lighter (from unloading the burdens) after coming away from the sacrament of Reconciliation.
The approach to Reconciliation is so different today than it was “years ago.” I think one of the messages we kept forgetting to emphasize years ago was the idea of Celebration. It is not celebrating what we have done wrong; but the sacrament of Reconciliation, like all sacraments, is celebrating God’s goodness, God’s grace, and indeed God’s understanding. Celebration is at the heart of every sacramental moment we have in our lives. Even though the “fear factor” will always be present in this particular sacrament, emphasizing Reconciliation as a moment of celebration and joy are paramount to a more healthy and life-giving approach to this time of grace. God and the presence of the Holy is not something to be feared, but welcomed and celebrated.
That is what I like so much about the way in which Bea Cunningham, Clare Hurrelbrink, Brigid Cashman, and the team of catechists and teachers from Partners and the FXW School emphasize in the celebration of First Reconciliation. First of all, there is no creepy confessional box in Old St. Pat’s; we sit face-to-face with good priests who represent the compassionate Christ; we proclaim the story of the Prodigal Son emphasizing the Father’s tremendous party he throws for his son upon his return home; and we light candles that brighten the experience of forgiveness and lighting our path to try again in this thing called life.
I am grateful to our grammar school children and this weekend’s milestone moment for reminding us again of the importance and relevance of not just enduring the sacrament of Reconciliation, but truly celebrating God’s gift of forgiveness and starting over.
Have a great week, and Happy Valentine’s Day….
Fr. Tom Hurley