Rethinking Confirmation: Curiosity and Encounter

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After reading the comments and posts of the last week, it is clear that a discussion about service experiences, curriculum, goals of that curriculum, exposure to the local faith community, and the age at which students receive the sacrament must be part of the conversation.  All these topics, however, fit within an overarching framework for faith formation, and it is that framework that I would like to address first.

A couple weeks ago I was talking to my confirmation small group about Baptism and how it relates to our relationship with God.  I was getting very excited (not surprising) describing the personal and communal bond with Christ that was formed at Baptism, and that as we grow in that relationship our lives are forever changed.  Their reactions seemed less than enthusiastic (also not surprising).  But then I asked what turned out be a breakthrough question, “why aren’t you excited about this?  This is so cool!”  Their responses varied, but the gist was they believed that they were too young and inexperienced to have the relationship with God I was describing.  BUT, when pushed, they went on to describe all the reasons why they wanted the closeness and depth of that relationship.

Now, granted, I have a really good confirmation small group this semester.  They are more curious and interested in the subjects we talk about than most, but after reflecting on that conversation, I’ve seen this expression of curiosity before; several times in fact.  Sara reflected last week about “meeting spaces.” Humans are naturally curious, and teenagers are more curious than most.  By pushing them to express themselves in a comfortable environment, the teenagers in my group revealed their curiosity and aspirations in a safe meeting space, and that created trust and even more curiosity.

A few weeks before this moment, one of the other leaders was giving a talk to the whole group.  The topic was, of all things, sacramentals. But the talk was oriented toward how sacramentals are physical expressions and aids of and for our relationship with God.  At the end – since the talk was in the Chapel – we asked the students three questions, the last being, “If you could ask God one questions, what would it be?”  Then, we gave them two or three minutes in the Chapel in front of the Tabernacle to quietly ask Christ that question.  I was amazed at how even those students who seemed completely uninterested for most of the class took this very seriously.  Almost all of the students, for those couple minutes, were asking those questions to God.

Imagine if this second story had happened right after the first! My small group was finally opening up about their curiosity and quest for meaning, fulfillment, and love, and then they would have been able to share those feelings with God face to face.  This is the dialogue I have seen at the heart of every successful retreat, Confirmation class, and service program. It is the dialogue between curiosity and encounter.  When students express their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, they are more likely to hear and engage with the response given. What if that response was not only Church teaching?  What if that response was an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ: the center of that teaching?

In my last post I talked about the near impossibility of making the teachings of the Catechism relevant to young adults without any conception of an active relationship with God. All the knowledge about Catholicism cannot answer the needs and desires of young people.  Only the one at the heart of that knowledge, Jesus Christ, can be that fulfillment.  Once the relationship is begun, then the great Tradition of the Church can aid and nurture discipleship.

So, what does this dialogue between curiosity and encounter look like within the different elements of Confirmation preparation?  How do we provide a diversity of experiences to resonate with as many students as possible?  How do we educate students on the doctrines and traditions of the church in a way that furthers this relationship? These questions are for the next post.  In the meantime, have any suggestions?

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