Thursday, October 29, 2009

Age of youth responsibility-a bit more

Without getting into a large theology and religious ritual and sacraments discussion, let me touch on some of the implications of what I wrote about for the seven year olds.

It is ironic that in a modern society filled with a lot of hot air about self examination and self discovery that many applaud the abandonment of the longest living and most justified form of it, which is childhood confession.

Think back to Biblical, and Qur'anic society. If a child sinned or committed an offense, the child was responsible and there was a code of punishment that the parents would have to follow on the child's behalf to atone. For example, beside any legal or civic judgment the Israelite parent would have to perform certain sacrifices at the temple to atone to God. This meant that two things were going on. One is that there is a process by which confession and atonement is followed. The other is that there is an understanding that one must only punish the child when the child has achieved an age of reason. Thus all the faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are founded in an understanding that knowledge of sin and wrong doing is a reality once a child is old enough to achieve an age of reason AND that regardless of secular restitution (let's say the child stole something) there is also a purification process needed before God.

This is why the Catholic Church has taught the sacrament of Confession, (now called Penance and Reconciliation in order to emphasis that confession is not enough but genuine regret and reconciliation is also needed) starting at the age of seven.

Children at that age have been recognized throughout history, both secular and faith history, that they have achieved the age of reason and they should and must know right from wrong. That's why children are well along at being in school by then, I mean, think about it. It is a traditional and vital part of Christian faith that children know how to discern that they have sinned and confess their sins. How do we know "that is in the Bible?" When Jesus warned about those who lead children into sin, implicit in that remark is that people are able to recognize sin when it occurs, and that includes children who have reached the age of reason.

There is no more maturity process than one by which parents and their church teach children not only what is "right from wrong" but "what is a sin" and furthermore, how to avail one's self of confession and cleansing of that sin. Why in the world do some denominations think that children do not need to recognize and confess their sins? It is part of raising a well balanced child, rather than letting society and soft porn TV do it for you.

I remember when I was six years old, approaching seven, of course, and playing around with my Catholic child friends and we'd joke that we only had a few months to go before we were accountable to God for anything we did wrong! Remember, I'm not speaking of raising children to "behave," to be "good" and "play nice." I'm speaking here of children who are raised properly who also are able by the age of seven to discern sin in themselves and others, and to have a God given process by which to repent, confess and atone.

I cannot begin to describe to you what a difference in producing mature youngsters than that, and that is the way it used to be.

This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this comment in another context, which is regarding preparation for the sacrament of Holy Communion (the "Lord's Supper" as some non-Catholics call it):

1244 The Latin Church, which reserves admission to Holy Communion to those who have attained the age of reason...

In other words, the Catholic Church teaches to seven year olds how to initiate the sacrament of Confession in order to prepare for the sacrament of Holy Communion because no one should partake in Holy Communion (or the "Lord's Supper") who is not able to discern their own sin and repent it. When I was growing up seven year old children who then went to their First Confession and First Communion from that point onward availed themselves of "going to Confession" whenever they felt the need.

Can people today only fantasize about a time when eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve year old children would on their own initiative self-examine and decide that they needed to go to Confession? That was indeed how it was when I was growing up and indeed as children several of us would go together, not at prompting by parents or priests, when it was time to go.

Can you see what I mean by 1) how misunderstood the Catholic faith is and 2) how infantilized our modern children are? The "Greatest Generation," that Catholic component, was raised like that, for the most part, where children knew very well not only what was a crime, or what was bad behavior, but what was also sin and they took their own responsibility for initiating and carrying out their sacrament of Confession.

Leave aside the argument, the old, tired arguments, about the role of a priest in Confession. Do not even try to pretend that those of you who teach that "confession is between 'myself' and God and 'does not need a so called mediator'" are raising your children-no matter how good they are-to be at that age as introspective and recognizing of sin in themselves and others as was done traditionally. I cannot even compare the seven year old child of Biblical times, the seven year old child of early Islamic times, and the seven year old child of the early, middle and even later Christian times with the seven year old child of today and how blind to sin.... even worse than that, how blind and eager and self excusing for sin that they have become!

Children are eager to be grown up and adults have robbed them of one of the most fundamental gifts of the faith which is at the age of reason to recognize and self examine for sin, to elect to reject sin, and to have sacramental self initiated means to confess and repent sin.

Please do think about that. Children are eager to be all grown up, and instead of the ways they have always learned to be "grown up," which is to recognize, shun and repent sin, that has been taken from them, a vital part of becoming a genuine child of God upon their age of reason.

Like I said, I am not trying to have a theological discussion or debate here. I guess you might think of this as part of the "faith and reasoning" series I am teaching, where I am showing you that far from being hocus-pocus, faith in God makes total sense and has for hundreds, indeed thousands of years been reality paced with factual human development. So think about it and you young people in particular, imagine what it was like to be raised where at seven years old you could not only discern "right from wrong" and being "good from bad," but also examine yourself (and observe others) to discern sin and what displeases God, and to have the religious gift at your own initiation to partake of, as I had when I was growing up. I cannot believe it, many times as I look around, at how children have been robbed of both their childhood and their access to mature religious participation at their own free will.

Further, often children would confess to sins and the priest would counsel them in the privacy of the confessional that perhaps their tentatively confessed feelings of envy or so forth were not actually full out sins, but temptations and normal human weaknesses. Far from being strict, children who worried that perhaps wishing they had something as nice as what the neighbor's child had was not a sin of envy or coveting, but a natural feeling of sadness, wistfulness. The priest would be, and often was back then, a reassuring figure in a child's discernment of sin rather than a harsh taskmaster. I remember my friends would discuss among ourselves "I wonder if that feeling was a sin" and the child who wondered would report after confession what the priest said, and the reassurances he gave, or the gentle warnings he would impart. That is, again, why it's not just a matter of being "between me and God" but confession with that mediator present does not mean the priest is forgiving sins instead of God, but is able to, as was documented to as early as the second century of Christianity, provide context for the one confessing regarding the dimensions and impact of their sin. Catholic kids used to discuss their sins and what the priest said all the time and it was a huge part of the development of their real and active faith. Kids need spiritual feedback that is real and access that is under their control more than even, particularly in these fake times.... especially when at best good godly parents but they are still sway to the temptations of the world, and at worst the the baby momma's drug using and child abusing boyfriend are far from being the ultimate resource in sin discernment!