Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism #5: Grace Abounds

This summer, I'm participating in an online book club reading Sherry Weddell's book, Forming Intentional Disciples. It's hosted by and it's never too late to join us!

An issue that the youth minister at my parish and I have talked about ad nauseum is teenagers and confirmation. Namely, all of the parents who see confirmation as a rite of passage that the teen has to go through whether they like it or not.

This topic also came up in my Bible study one time and it was enlightening. Many of the women in my Bible study were in this camp. They were of the opinion of "We had to do it, so should they." Also, the mentality that Wendell speaks about in the book of "The Sacrament will take care of anything lacking in intention." I had to bite my tongue not to say something I would later regret.
As a convert, I do have a very different relationship with the sacraments. I received Baptism, Confirmation, and First Communion all in the same ceremony after 16 months or so of preparation. Before even entering a Catholic Church, I had looked for God for at least a decade of my life. I journaled every day for the month prior to the rites, examining my life up to that point and thinking about what the rites meant to me. My family isn't Catholic, the rites weren't part of my family heritage or hoops to jump through.
I wish I had this chapter with me when this conversation at my Bible study occurred. I wonder if this chapter could stand alone for copies to be given to all parents of the teens going into confirmation. (Sherry, I know you read some of these, can we get permission to do that?) To be honest, this idea of the two parts of the Sacraments was not brought up in my theological studies. But, then again, my specialty was Bible not Liturgy, so they might have covered this, but not in any of the classes I took.
The standard practice at my parish is that every teen going for confirmation has to have an interview with the youth minister. If in the course of that interview, the teen expresses that they do not want to be confirmed and can give a good reason, the youth minister will call the parents in. The youth minister will then argue on the behalf of the teenager for the teenager's right to say "no."
In my classes with the Confirmation students, I share with them my conversion story. I try to make it clear to them that they have to want this. I also tell them it is not a one time deal, they can refuse and come back later. RCIA is always an option. Half of the candidates in the last RCIA class we had were young adults who had refused to get confirmed as teenagers and changed their minds as adults. Similarly, this is not "graduating Catholicism." There will always be new things to learn and new ways to grow in your relationship with Christ.
Like Bible Study
The women in my Bible study were full of beautiful stories about forcing their teens to be Confirmed and their kids then leave the faith only to they rediscover the faith later on in life. They all linked it back to the day they forced them to get Confirmed. They feel that if they didn't force their child to get Confirmed, they would have never returned to the Church.
The women might not be that far off the mark. They mistakenly think that the Sacrament works even if the person doesn't want it. However, once the person does want it, the grace that was previously blocked can begin to flow.
I am still of the opinion that Confirmation should be later, when the young adult can appreciate it more. I have heard, however, great arguments the other way. I just think it's a mess and a half to have these poorly catechized teenagers with hormones raging and the attention span of gnats go through a Sacrament that leaves a permanent mark on the soul. (I love my teens, but, holy cow, they can be difficult.)
Maybe an all around change in parish culture like that proposed in Forming Intentional Disciples could make the whole process go smoother and the teens would get more out of it. They would get better catechesis from the beginning. They would from day one be encouraged to have a more personal relationship with Jesus. Then the hormones and the attention span wouldn't be nearly the problem they are now and the grace can simply flow.  


  1. My sister delayed Confirmation, refusing it in 7th or 8th grade of Catholic school, whichever it was at the time (I received it in 7th). My parents let it go but required her to go through a much more rigorous high-school Confirmation program, which was 2 or 3 years, instead. I wonder how much push-back you get from parents whose child doesn't want to be confirmed? How often is it the parent saying that this must happen? And are 8th-graders "ready?" Some probably are; some certainly are not.

    1. I should not give any specifics about our parish, but I know of at least three instances of parents refusing to allow their child to refuse a sacrament. We confirm our teens when they are high school sophomores and we begin preparation their freshman year. I know that if any of my kids refused to get confirmed, it would create tension in my family, so I have some sympathy for these families. I think we all just need some better catechesis.

    2. That's what I was wondering--would the parents deal with it if the teen didn't want to accept the sacrament? I'm not asking for specifics since that's private information. It is a tough line to walk, that's for sure! Definitely, better catechesis is needed all around.

    3. I have two brothers who delayed confirmation. One was confirmed later when his wife was brought into the Church and the other has completely left the Church. There was very large misunderstanding of the actual sacrament of Confirmation on my parents' part, too. My mother had never been Confirmed, either. They just viewed it as "Catholic Bar-Mitzvah" and a renewal of Baptismal vows. They didn't see it as necessary.

      My children were confirmed in 6th grade which I thought at the time was inordinately early. I now believe that this was a great blessing for them.

      They had been working through preparation in CCD classes from 3rd Grade through 6th Grade. And to bolster the sacrament, in 7th and 8th Grade, they were studied apologetics in CCD. In High School CCD, they studied Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. And, yes, this was a once a week program.

      I don't think the answer is to delay Confirmation. I think it's all in the prep work. We have to stop thinking in terms of "Okay, it's 7th grade so now we're going to start getting this kid ready for Confirmation". We need to approach it as a continuous journey - one that will continue on throughout life, certainly - but one, that does not drop off at First Communion and then pick up again at Confirmation. I think that should be a key objective for catechesis. And, of course, the parents need to understand the sacraments, too.

  2. Katie, your High School CCD program sounds awesome! I tried to tie Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas into my Confirmation classes this year and I think all I accomplished was my teens thinking I'm "really smart." I'll be trying again this year because the goal is to make *them* smart, not show off my education.


What do you think? I want to know.