Teaching Reconciliation in the Year of Faith

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by Page McKean Zyromski

Imagine being able to go to confession only once in your lifetime. No wonder that, centuries ago, most
people waited until their deathbed to receive this Sacrament! Also imagine
having to do your penance publicly—like wearing sackcloth around town for a
year. Learning the history of Reconciliation in this Year of Faith makes us
appreciate what we now have. No wonder the Pope wants us to receive it more

Unmasking the Names of Sin

We live in a time when greed is called “smart shopping,”
abortion is called “choice,” and adultery is called “being with.” Sooner or
later, we need to call a spade a spade (careful to “hate the sin while loving
the sinner”).

The same old Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, anger,
gluttony, envy, and sloth— ensnare us as
they always have. They just dress in different clothes. They’re called “deadly”
because they kill relationships. Who wants to be friends with me if I’m angry
or jealous all the time? These sins also kill the sinner’s self-respect, not to
mention his or her love of God.

Keeping It Simple

A teacher once wrote two words on the board: GOD and SIN. As
she circled the letter O in the first word, she said, “O is the middle of GOD.
We stand in awe and say ‘Oh!’” Then she circled the I in SIN and said, “I is
the middle of SIN. Sometimes I want something for myself so much that I do
wrong to get it.”

The basics are simple: I did something wrong and I know it.
I am sorry and I want to make up for it. I will try, with God’s help, to do
better in the future.

Avoiding “Pinwheel Confessions”

“Pinwheel Confessions” (confessing the SOS—Same Old
Sins—each time we go to confession) cause Catholics to feel they’re not making
progress. They lose heart and gradually stop going to confession altogether.

An age-appropriate examination of conscience is one way to
avoid spinning our wheels.

Another is alertness to the red-flag word because, which tries to justify the
wrongdoing. For example, “I pushed him because
he pushed me first” is an effort to justify anger. “I talked about her
behind her back because she’s prettier
than I” is an effort to justify envy. Because
is an important red flag pointing to our motive, often the root of our behavior
and a fault that can be overcome with God’s grace.

Growing As We Go

With the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Confession),
we grow as we go, confident in God’s care. No need to expect perfection by next
Friday. “Every saint has a past,” as the saying goes, “and every sinner has a

Make a list of “accidental happenings” (stepping on a person’s foot, forgetting
a friend’s birthday) and a list of “deliberate acts” (shoving someone, lying).
Give two white paper plates to each student. Have each student draw a Sad Face
on one plate, and a Quirky Grin Face (a wavy line) on the other plate. Read
aloud from your lists and let students hold up the Sad Face when you read a
“deliberate act” that is sinful, and the Quirky Grin Face when you read an
“accidental happening” that is not sinful, when it’s just an “oops.”

Help students write one-line prayers that offset different wrongdoings: “Lord,
please help me guard my big fat mouth.”

Bring in a pinwheel (inexpensive at a
dollar store) and talk about “Pinwheel Confessions” and ways to lop the
sin off at its base. Then cut off one of the blades of the pinwheel and see if
it still spins.

Make a crayon-resist heart. On a piece of heavy white construction paper, use
any color crayon to draw a heart. With black or brown crayon, make heavy X’s
across the wide horizontal parts of the heart (representing thorns, like Jesus’
crown of thorns). Paint over the whole composition with red water color. We
pierce the hearts of others with a thorn when we sin against them. We pierce
our own hearts, too, although we might not realize it at the time.

Page McKean Zyromski, a catechist for 45 years, has
been a contributor to
CATECHIST since 1983. She lives in Painesville, OH.
You may contact her at

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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, December 2012

Image Credit: MIA Studio/Shutter Stock 608275256

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