Penance might be the sacrament we Catholics are least excited
about. And yet, youth ministers report that the sacrament of
Reconciliation is often the part of a youth retreat that many teenagers
cite as their favorite.
Sometimes, we approach this sacrament with the burden of
drafting a list of sins, but this is a fragmented way of looking at
our lives. It won't always lead to deeper reflection or new insights.
Often, it's more helpful to imagine the pattern of our sinfulness.
An examination of conscience that looks at the "big picture of
how we sin" might assist young people in this process of discovery
Youth leaders at your parish could assist with putting
together questions that would stimulate the kind of reflection
needed for teens to see the big picture of their sinful habits.
Here's one approach: How might I be hurting myself or
You could start by asking your leadership group to brainstorm
the kinds of things that teenagers often do to themselves, to
others, or to their families-things that are negative patterns or
habits. You can help them turn their list into reflection questions.
- Here are a few examples of sinful habits that hurt myself:
- • Do I end up frantic and frustrated, trying to do everything
last-minute, yet never learning from my mistakes?
- • How can I get more organized, so I can treat myself better?
- Sinful habits that hurt my friends.
- • Do I betray the secrets of one friend to create a bond with
- • How can I start to treat my friends better?
- Sinful habits that hurt my family.
- • Do I take my parents for granted? Do I treat my family with
- • How can I start to treat my family better?
Here's another approach: What is one area of sinfulness
that affects all of my relationships and everything I do?
You could give your leadership teens a list of sinful patterns
to consider. Request questions that help young people recognize
themselves in patterns. More examples:
- Do I have a habit of being angry?
- • Am I impatient or irritable? Do I lose my temper easily? Do I expect too much?
- • What can I do to become more peaceful and forgiving?
- Do I have a habit of being too proud or arrogant?
- • Do I want everyone to think they need me? Do I always have
to be right?
- • What can I do to become humbler and accepting?
- Do I have a habit of being dishonest?
- • Do I lie or twist the facts to
present my spin on reality?
Do I deny what's true?
- • What can I do to become more
truthful and honest?
- Do I have a habit of being jealous?
- • Do I hate it when someone else
gets a lot of attention? Do
I always need to be noticed?
- • What can I do to accept being more "ordinary"?
- Do I have a habit of being selfish or greedy?
- • Do I want a lot of stuff I don't really need? Do I focus on
myself instead of others? Do I never think about how
someone else might feel about a situation?
- • What can I do to become more generous toward others?
- Do I have a habit of being too afraid to act?
- • Do I worry too much about what others think? Am I too
afraid of being criticized?
- • How can I become more courageous?
- Do I have a habit of seeking too much entertainment?
- • Do I eat too much, party too much, or hate the idea of any
discomfort? Do I make jokes about a problem to avoid
having to take anything too seriously?
- • What can I do to increase my self-control or expand my
A teen leader who helped with this process told me he started
out thinking of all the sins he wanted to remind his friends about.
He had someone in mind for every question he wrote. But when it
was all finished, he ended up seeing himself in all of them. By the
time he spoke with a priest at the Reconciliation service, he had his
"make-over" plan ready to go! He told me, "The priest said, 'I don't
even have to give you a penance! You came up with your own!'"
Imagine the results if all of us reflected on our sinfulness so
- Do I have a habit of being disrespectful?
- • Do I usually try to get my way by power, force, intimidation, or bold challenge? Do I look down on anyone who is
different than I?
- • What can I do to become more tolerant and accept limitations
is director of youth leadership at House of Peace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
She is the former youth ministry director for the Grand Island,
Nebraska, and the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, dioceses.