During the season of Lent, many Catholic grade school children will be making their first confession. We are most certainly in the midst of a great season of grace – there is cause for much rejoicing here! At the same time, there exists a certain degree of frivolity with which many people think of first confessions for children – “After all,” they say, “what sins can a seven year old commit?” Thus, first confession is often presented merely as a moral lesson in growing up, or perhaps merely as a hoop to jump through on the way to first communion.
However, if first confession is not really about forgiving sin, and if these children do not really need to be reconciled to God; then we ought to say (in the style of Flannery O’Connor), “The heck with it.” Thus, it will be good to consider not merely whether a child of the age of reason can sin, but even whether such a child can commit a mortal sin. Do such children really have the ability to direct their heart and mind either for or against God?