Category Archives: The Confirmation Project

Sacrament of Initiation or Sacrament of Graduation

Christ the Teacher

By Javier Soegaard

One of the things we Confirmation teachers and directors lament is the “graduation” mentality that accompanies the current American practice of Confirmation. Wedged between the 8th grade and high school years, it is easy for our young people and their parents to consider this Sacrament a sort of moving-on from the doldrums of religious education into the blasé world of ambiguous religious practice. It certainly doesn’t help that the albs worn by our confirmands are tremendously reminiscent of academic garb.

Changing our vesting practices during the sacramental rite, however, will not bring us any closer to the solution. Nor will simply saying, “Hey guys and gals, this isn’t the end, this is just the beginning of your faith journey!”

Siiiigh.  I’d like to think Confirmation classes aren’t simply preparation for a Catechesis Quiz Show. Can you name the Seven such-and-such-es? Recite the Novena to so-and-so in English, Latin, and Klingon? Those are good things, but as a friend reminded me yesterday – they’re not necessarily mystagogical – they provide a stopping point rather than an invitation into the depth and mystery of faith. Continue reading Sacrament of Initiation or Sacrament of Graduation

Rethinking Confirmation 3: The Rubber Meets the Road

This is the post that hopefully begins to address what evoking curiosity and creating opportunities for encounter with Christ looks like in different aspects of Confirmation preparation. I’ve spent the last two weeks noting the challenges facing confirmation teachers, and then mapping an overarching approach to providing meaningful faith formation to encourage discipleship.  So, what does this look like?

I’d like this to be an open forum of best practices.  I’ll get the ball rolling with examples of things that have worked for me in each area. If you want to add to an area, or create a new one, just leave a comment below (this is of course conditional on the fact that people are reading this post…).  Ok, here we go!

Continue reading Rethinking Confirmation 3: The Rubber Meets the Road

Confirmation Delayed, Not Denied: Or, Grand Slam Singles

I have been asked to offer a short reflection at our parishes’ Confirmation class tonight about how I understand Confirmation when I received it, and how I understand it now.  Here are my notes.

 

I missed Robin Ventura’s “Grand Slam Single” because of my mandatory Confirmation retreat.  And the retreat was awful: the first thing I remember from the retreat is that the priest yelled at us because we had such a reputation for being terrible to the small group leaders.  I don’t remember much else.  My Confirmation wasn’t much better: it was crowded, the readers mumbled, and the bishop preached way too long (I think he gave the same homily for every Confirmation because I heard the same version at both of my younger brothers’ Confirmations too.)

I wouldn’t say that Confirmation didn’t do anything for me: I think it’s better to say that it took a while for me to realize what Confirmation was doing in me for a good long while.

And so, when I think back to Confirmation encouraging me to partipate in the life of the parish, I remember reading the second reading at my brother’s Confirmation.  I proclaimed one of my favorite readings from Paul: that part of Romans where Paul claims that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  I did this all the while looking out at my mother, a cancer survivor, and knowing that it was only through many prayers, deep faith, and great doctors that she could be called “in remission.”

I think back to my Confirmation and remember the prayer, the bishop anointing me with chrism, and then remember re-teaching a man at the Shattuck Hospital the “Our Father.”  The middle-aged man, we’ll call him “Joe,” had literally drank his life away.  Needing a liver transplant, but unable to get on the list because of his alcoholism, Joe was a doomed man.  Before dying, however, he wanted to relearn the Our Father and make peace with his estranged wife and kids.  Joe couldn’t do more than repeat the first two lines, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” because of the toll alcohol had taken on his short-term memory.  But he did reconcile with his family: Our Father who art in heaven!

I think back to my Confirmation and remember not feeling anything: wondering when the flashing lines and music from the sky would start.  And then, many years later, walking out of my solemn profession, heart bursting with joy, wondering just what started me on an incredible journey.

I can’t prove that Confirmation put me on the path to these events in my life.  What I do know, however, is that I missed the greatest game in Mets history, but I wouldn’t have missed any reading at my brother’s Confirmation, teaching a dying man the Our Father, or being a friar for the world.

A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Part 2)

Tom Palanza’s guest post continues today.  Read part one here.

The theme of our previous meeting was on rituals, who participates in them and what they accomplish, which was a nice segue into discussing sacraments.  The Sacraments (in the proper sense of the Seven Sacraments) are the rituals of the Church.  This leads to our two basic concepts, posed as questions to the catechumens, “What are sacraments and why do we do them?”  Since our faith is an intelligible mystery, knowable but never completely grasped, the best way to answer these two questions is through analogy.  The discussion developed off of three analogies: 1 – Learning a Language, 2 – Marriage Proposals, 3 – Sports Fandom.

A language analogy helps concretize the nature and function of a sacrament.  What is a fourteen year old catechumen going to learn from a definition like “a sacrament is an outpouring of God’s grace,” or “a sacrament is a physical manifestation of an invisible reality?”  Language, however, is something they are very familiar with.  To tell them the Sacraments are a language, specifically the language that the Church and God use to speak to each other, now that might mean something.  The image of a child learning to speak exemplifies this.  Children must learn the language of their parents in order to know what their parents are trying to tell them and in order to express themselves to their parents.  The Sacraments are the language we use to speak with God.  As children learn a language from their parents, so do we learn God’s language from God.  The Scriptures are the history of humanity learning God’s language and through it learning about God and speaking back to God.  The more we learn this language the more God can say to us and the more we can say back to him.  The Sacraments are the most mature form of language with God given to us by Jesus (God himself) and made our own in the Church.

Continue reading A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Part 2)

A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Guest Post)

In this guest post, Tom Palanza offers part one of a two-part guest post: Presenting the Sacramental Life to Fourteen Year Old Catechumen

Confirmation Class: Lambs Making Peace with Lions
Confirmation Class: Lambs Making Peace with Lions

Each Sunday in the basement of St. Brigid church in South Boston, sixty teenage catechumens gather together in prayer and the love of Christ to be guided by ten spiritually mature members of the parish through a series of presentations and discussions that will deepen and expand their understanding of the faith that they will claim as their own and enter into full participation in by receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at the end of this April.

In this ideal, discussing the sacraments with fourteen year old catechumens would be a great experience, and easy too.  But that’s obviously not the situation we find ourselves in week after week (if it is your situation, then please leave your parish’s address in the comments section below).  Instead of a room full of faces growing in awe and amazement during presentations like “The History of Baptism” or “The Ritual of Baptism,” presenters are probably more used to seeing a room full of heads bobbing and nodding in boredom during such talks.  The question – the challenge – then becomes, “How do you present baptism (or any sacrament) to fourteen year old catechumens in a language they can understand so that they can see for themselves the power and beauty that is an innate part of the sacrament and enables them to chew on the meaning of the sacrament on their own and participate in them with all their heart, all their soul, all their strength, and all their mind?”

Continue reading A Dispatch from the Field: Presenting the Sacraments at Confirmation Class (Guest Post)

Guest Post: Restoring Confirmation (Faith Formation Division)

Yesterday, guest contributor Nick Coccoma proposed moving back the age for both Confirmation and Eucharist; today, he’s back at it, considering ways in which faith formation itself can be revamped.  Check out Part 1 here.

Brian’s question was really one about the religious education of adolescents, packaged in the question of confirmation programming. This deeper topic is more difficult to address. How to make Christianity relevant to teenagers and young adults? I’m no expert in religious education, either in theory or practice. I write, then, provisionally and based on my limited observation of the cultural climate among Millennials and younger generations. Caveat emptor. That said, here are some educated impressions.

Firstly, though young people come ready made these days with a skeptical attitude toward institutional Christianity, Jesus is still very popular. Any theologian worth his weight would argue that you can’t have one without the other, but let’s leave that issue aside for now. Religious education of teens should focus on coming to know and love Jesus, experiencing his presence in life, and desiring to share in his mission to the world.

Secondly, teenagers live in a sea of multimedia and pop culture. It’s incumbent on religion teachers to draw on popular forms of music, movies, literature, and other arts so as to affect youths on an emotional level. This approach should draw connections between the themes they encounter in the world at large and Christianity. It would illustrate the positive cultural attitude of Christian humanism, the universality of the biblical story, and the pleasures of a religious aesthetic sensibility.

Thirdly, while many kids instinctively view the church as a vociferous guardian of rigid sexual positions, the church’s social teaching is in accord with their views on many political issues of today: immigration, the environment, war, etc. Religious educators would do well to highlight these teachings and the Christian origin of social advances like the Civil Rights movement, Progressive Era, and anti-war movement .

Finally, adolescents and young adults are in the developmental stage of seeking identity and intimacy. Religious formation should target this yearning and instill a theology of vocation to meet it. But it should shift from the limited categories of priesthood, religious life, and marriage to an expansive notion: vocation discovered through listening to one’s inner voice and attuning one’s natural interests and talents with God’s purposes for the world. This focus would not reduce Christian discipleship to being a nice person at work, but rather familiarize adolescents with the art of reflection, so as to discern the Spirit’s movement: what gives them joy, what they really want do with their lives (beyond societal pressures to go into finance!). The one constant across all vocations would be service to the poor and prayer. (For young men, especially, this contemplation should give them a sense of the projects they can undertake for the church–tactile missions to do for Jesus.) In terms of intimacy, instruction should showcase how Christian living entails learning to make oneself vulnerable. Vulnerability allows for strong connections and intimacy (with God and people), which in turn increases happiness, as studies today indicate.

With all this said, I don’t believe we should abandon the cognitive dimension of faith formation. Teenagers learn advanced calculus and physics, read Salinger and Hardy, and study the internecine details of European history and complications of foreign languages. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask them to wrestle with systematic theology, illustrating the philosophical rigor that the faith has. Sometimes I wonder if youth look skeptically at certain strains of contemporary Christianity because it seems, to them, excessively emotive, simplistic, and superstitious. Introducing them to the church’s intellectual tradition–treating them as adults–might aid in building their adult faith.

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Nick Coccoma studied theatre, philosophy, and theology at the College of the Holy Cross and the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. A native of Cooperstown, NY, he lives in Boston, where he’s worked as a middle school religion teacher, hospital chaplain, and currently writes movie and cultural reviews for Critics at Large.

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.

Continue reading Rethinking Confirmation: Curiosity and Encounter

I Will Not Leave You Orphans

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I don’t think it is news to anyone that the life we are called to live is far from easy. Jesus warns his disciples that they will be hated, rejected, scorned, and judged. He calls us to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. As He struggles to carry the very cross that will be used in His own crucifixion, and as He is mocked and jeered at by the people He had trusted, we are called to follow in His footsteps. This is why Confirmation can seem a little scary. For the first time on our own, we freely choose to become full members of the Catholic Church, which means that we say “yes” to a life of suffering; we agree to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus’ example. Confirmation takes courage. I was in eighth grade when I received my Confirmation. Freely accepting a life full of suffering and rejection is a pretty intimidating task for an eighth grader! Sometimes, though, I think I forget that the burden of taking up our crosses daily is only half of the story, because God is not calling us to take on this suffering by ourselves.

Continue reading I Will Not Leave You Orphans

The Confirmation Project: What is Presence?

A great question asked by loyal reader Wayne Hipley:

Three times in your post you used the word ‘encounter,’ and I think that’s the key. How do we help our young people encounter Christ in Scripture? In the Holy Eucharist? In our world? We say “Christ is present” but how do they truly know and understand that? This has been the challenge I’ve been wrestling with, even with a program that I believe to be quite good.

Food for thought!

Rethinking Confirmation: A New Page

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Who Has Two Thumbs and Causes Trouble? This Guy!

Our contributor Brian Niemiec caused all sorts of waves yesterday, asking if we needed to rethink Confirmation.  We received all sorts of responses through com-box, Facebook, and direct email.

Several CatholicHow contributors are working on responses to Brian’s piece, along with a few “guest” appearances by veterans in the youth ministry field.  We’d like it very much if you joined in the conversation: follow us on Twitter (@catholichow) and send us your ideas using #rethink, leave us a response on our Facebook Page (Catholic How), respond to Brian’s original piece by clicking here, or email us your “pitch” for a guest piece by emailing catholichow@gmail.com.

In the meantime, navigate to the Catholic How home page and click the tab that says The Confirmation Project for our most thoughts on Brian’s initial article.