On examining Jesus’ message of forgiveness and mercy
I went to confession a few weeks back, and as I knelt down, I heard the voice of a beloved priest on the other side of the screen. I knew he would recognize me, and before I even had a chance to think, I was saying, “Bless me, Father …” in some weirdly disguised voice that wasn’t my own.
Embarrassment. Shame. Fear
These emotions can chase at our heels when we’re standing in line at the confessional. It would be fair to assume the same is true for our teens. Add in varying degrees of unformed conscience, and it can be difficult to get young people to embrace this sacrament.
It’s a natural reaction for our teens to carry their earthly experiences with sin and consequences into the confessional. Break a family rule? You’re grounded/lose your phone/lose use of the car/ lose access to social media/given extra chores. Any or all of these are quick parental remedies against infractions. Wouldn’t God react in the same way? And if he does, why would I want to voluntarily put myself at risk for punishment?
A closer look at Jesus’ reaction to sin and those who commit it can put a nervous heart to rest.
Examine the Gospel
Each Scripture passage (listed in the box on page 32) relates an interaction between Jesus and someone caught in sin or coming from a life of sin. I recommend that catechists or youth ministry leaders read each passage ahead of time, paying attention to the disposition of the heart of the sinner and Jesus’ reaction to that heart. This will be especially clear when comparing the Pharisees (Matthew 23) with Nicodemus (John 3) and the two thieves with each other (Luke 23).
Consider these prompts:
■ How did the sinner react to Jesus’ presence?
■ How did the sinner react to Jesus’ words?
■ What did Jesus say to each and how did he say it?
■ What did he give the sinner in addition to forgiveness?
■ When did Jesus withhold forgiveness and why?
Next, read these passages together, asking your teens to do what you did on your own: share the patterns they noticed.
Finally, help them to explore what goes on in their own hearts when they approach confession and what they can learn from this study of sinners in the Bible. Encourage them to embrace the truth that when they make an honest confession, they can trust that Jesus’ heart toward them is filled with love and forgiveness.
Becky Groth is a writer for ODB Films.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2020