Remember sixth grade? Boy, I do. And I wouldn’t go back. Nope. You couldn’t talk me into it at all. Life might be “easier” for kids (though I don’t really buy into that either), but it sure isn’t better in sixth grade (or high school either, for that matter).

The other night, we had a shortage of catechists and aides for our religious education classes, and I’m on the sub list so it was my chance to spend the evening with that class of sixth graders that has struck terror in the hearts of otherwise calm and rational people. We have catechists who have said they will only volunteer on the condition that they don’t have this class of kids. That’s why Father’s teaching this year, and he’s in with the sixth grade.

Three years ago, the last year I was still a catechist in our religious education program, I had these little charmers. And the accusations and uproar surrounding them makes me laugh. You see, if I had been at Catholic religious education classes when I was in sixth grade, this would have been the group of kids I would have been in. They talk out of turn. They writhe with energy we adults can only marvel at (or be disgusted by, depending on the context). They say inappropriate things.

And they still come up to me at Mass and hug me. A month ago, when I showed up to be an aide for this class, they were nothing less than excited to see me. I didn’t do much more than say hi to them, and stand in the back of the room while someone else taught. (That someone else, it should be noted, had NO IDEA I would have been willing to teach, and I think I’ve marked myself for when Father’s on vacation in a few weeks…)

This class of kids doesn’t scare me. Maybe it’s because I know them; maybe it’s because I relate with them; maybe it’s just me being difficult and refusing to go along with popular opinion.

Yeah, they border on disrespect. But before we get all huffy about that, I’d like to point out a few of the adults who are their examples (i.e. parents and friends of the family and noted parishioners and, really, just adults in general). They’re the sort of people who get in your face and who don’t care if the priest said so, because we have the right to express our opinion. What are we expecting from our kids then? (Not that I’m encouraging disrespect; just trying to understand where these kids are coming from…)

I also consider the circumstances in the room. One of the kids lost their dad at a young age, and Mom works A LOT in a big corporate job. Another one is being raised by grandparents who were just recently divorced. They’ve all got those pesky hormones raging and the buds of deep thoughts forming in their heads, threatening to explode them.

So when Father said the topic the other night was Sacraments of Healing, and he told me he would focus mainly on reconciliation, I rubbed my hands together and settled into my chair. He kicked things off with Stations of the Cross as the opening prayer. Sure, a few of them were making little dramatic noises after each station past the seventh. Is that so different from my toddler’s rebellion against eating dinner? Sometimes, paying attention to the drama fans it, and Father just ignored the noises. I glanced up at a few different points, and I noticed that at least half the class was really getting into it. I wonder if any of them have prayed Stations before. And if they have, I wonder if they have thought about it before. I think at least a few of them got some food for thought.

During the discussion about reconciliation, the questions were great. Yeah, they got off-topic and they didn’t always take turns talking (but I know adults with the same tendencies). One girl, when the sin of “having an affair” was brought up (one of those things intended to shock, though it fell flat in the face of Father’s matter-of-fact approach), asked just how divorce could be allowed if marriage was supposed to be forever. As she asked it, the walls around her – the ones that make her a smart aleck and crack up her friends – dropped just a bit. She really wanted to know. This was something she had been thinking about. Father tabled the conversation until the discussion of that set of sacraments, but I could see the foundation.

Realizing some of the everyday sins they needed to confess really got this group thinking. It might not be quiet, reflective thinking, but it’s there, making them wonder. “You mean if I miss Mass on Sunday I can go to hell? What if…(insert unlikely scenario here)?” “I have sinned if I said ‘God’?!?” “THINKING bad thoughts about my parents is something I should confess?”

And, as I suspected, the format could have been used for a group of adults, though the adults I know would have been more likely to sit there silently.