Before you celebrate the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with your kids (see Celebrate Reconciliation), help them to prepare by coaching them through an examination of conscience.
An examination of conscience is a prayerful reflection on our actions in light of our faith in order to identify sins, patterns of sin, or ways that we are falling short of who God is calling us to be. Once we recognize our sins, we can ask God for forgiveness and healing. (For more Talking Points about this topic, see Celebrate Reconciliation.)
A good examination of conscience considers all areas of our lives—our thoughts and words, what we have done, and what we have failed to do (to paraphrase the Confiteor). Typically it consists of questions in three categories: the call to love God, the call to love others, and the call to love one’s self. Most forms of the examination of conscience draw on the Ten Commandments; however, some draw on the Beatitudes, Catholic social teaching, or portions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
You can find many forms of the examination of conscience in various prayer books and online; the U.S. Catholic bishops provide versions that use the Ten Commandments and the principles of Catholic social teaching, as well as versions geared toward children, young adults, single adults, and married adults on their website (search the Internet for the terms USCCB and examination of conscience). Find those links and a simple examination of conscience for children on our Examinations of Conscience page.
Here are some tips for making a good examination of conscience:
► Ask for help. Encourage your kids to pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten them about their sins, or ways that they have fallen short of being the person God is calling them to be.
► Don’t wait until the last minute. If you use a written examination of conscience as a guide, post it on your refrigerator or in your Home Oratory a few days before going to receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
► Pray the Examen. Praying the Ignatian Examen regularly as a family will help older kids and teens become more aware of their spiritual lives generally, and make their examinations of conscience more fruitful.