Heavy Lifting on Retreat: “Bless me father, for I have no idea how to do this…”
A continuing discussion on what makes retreats successful. See introduction, here.
This year I took an informal survey of our confirmation students, asking when they had last gone to confession. A full third had not been since their first time, just before their first Holy Communion. The rest were evenly split between on the order of weeks, months, and years. In some ways, this is great news: it means almost half of our teens have been to confession recently, one way or another. Praise God! In another way, it is sad, for it means that over half our teens are not experiencing the joy and relief of Christ’s mercy in this beautiful sacrament. Retreat is an excellent opportunity for teens to face their fear of the sacrament and come to know the joy of going to confession, or at least the joy of leaving the confessional afterward!
We can’t force a retreatant to make a good confession, but we can encourage and prepare them as best we can, letting God do the rest of the work. The real heavy lifting comes in the moment of absolution, when all their sins are lifted away by God:
And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
Matthew 9:2-6, NAB
Let’s look at how to prepare your teens to make a good confession on retreat, by looking at obstacles in the way:
First obstacle: Lack of confessors
Arrange for a priest or priests to hear confessions. You want priests with solid theology and pastoral skills. Don’t entrust the souls of the retreatants to a curmudgeon.
Second obstacle: Poor preparation
Allow sufficient time for the teens to thouroughly examine their conscience, and answer their questions about what the Church teaches on morality. Remember, there can be no mercy if there is not justice: we must kneel before the Lord and convict ourselves of our sins. We want our retreatants to know their sins and understand the gravity of sin, and be contrite (at least a little bit.) So, don’t rush the process. Make it an important and integral part of your schedule. Teens should go to the sacrament of reconciliation because they want to experience Christ’s Mercy, not because they feel rushed and forced to.
Above all, begin to pray well in advance of the retreat that your teens know their sins, feel sorrow for them, and make good confessions. Also, GO TO CONFESSION YOURSELF before the retreat, and encourage the leaders to do so as well. If that’s not possible do so during the retreat.
Third obstacle: Fear, especially fear of the unknown.
People avoid confession because they are afraid of it. It is scary! We get nervous before we go kneel before the Lord, and for good reason. It is hard to bring our sins up out loud. For myself, I have sinned my fair share of sins four times over, and have grown accustomed to confessing my sins. But for the teens, who don’t always have the same ammount of reconciliation experience under their belt even if they have the same or more experience sinning, fear of the sacrament can be paralyzing. Be encouraging, and be joyful afterward.
His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
-Luke 15:21-24, NAB
Remember, we can bring the teens to living water, but we can’t make them drink. Encourage and teach and lead by example, and rejoice for the teens who are reconciled with Christ and the Church through the sacrament.
“Thus each confession, from which each Christian will emerge renewed, will represent a step forward for new evangelization.”–BXVI
What are your ideas for preparing teens for confession?