Throughout this Easter season, we bishops are happily busy celebrating the sacrament of confirmation all over the archdiocese with thousands of our young people.
I can honestly say this experience is the best part of being a bishop. I love meeting the confirmands, reading their letters and being with them in such an intense spiritual moment. We rejoice that the Holy Spirit continues to stir up young hearts to respond to Jesus Christ and his call of discipleship.
I share with you some of the important things I have learned over the last three years through the confirmation experience.
1. Our young people are deeply spiritual. A common cliché today is that most teenagers find faith irrelevant and boring. While many children go through such a phase of not wanting to go to church or religious formation, I find most of our confirmands asking the right questions about life, delving deeper into the meaning of Mass and the Scriptures, wanting to do something authentic in their lives that will truly help other people. They narrate how their faith has moved from a heavy sense of obligation to a joyful embrace of possibilities. God is very much on their minds.
2. Young people are hungry for authentic encounters of communion that link them to God and to others, especially the poor and suffering. Time and again, they speak movingly about trigger experiences that changed their perceptions of Jesus, Catholicism and themselves. Mission trips, confirmation retreats, service projects and eucharistic adoration stand out as pivotal moments of decision and transformation in their lives. Young people challenge us to experience God and our faith in action, not simply sit in a room and talk about it. They also express relief and joy in the moments of being unplugged from social media technology.
3. Young people are idealistic and want to be challenged to grow spiritually, intellectually and morally in their faith. Sometimes, we adults are afraid to present the demands and difficulties of Catholic faith to the young, afraid that we will turn them off or drive them away. Often, we are not asking enough. Confirmands talk about wanting more substance, more experience and more prayer in their years of sacramental preparation. St. John Paul II keenly understood the deep idealism of youth and powerfully tapped into it, especially at World Youth Days. Sports programs have no problem putting exacting demands on high school athletes, nor should we, as long as it is possible and reasonable.
4. Many young people have suffered deeply. We may be tempted to look at a 16-year-old and think, “What does he know about life yet?” or “Her life is so spoiled and easy.” Many teenagers have endured the death of parents and siblings, the suicide of friends, depression or anxiety, rejection at school, surgeries and illnesses, divorce and drug addiction. Given myriad temptations to sin, the social pressure to conform to cultural norms, the prevalence of drugs and the sexualization of youth, we have to give our teens a lot of credit, that amid all of the moral confusion around them, many of them still choose to get confirmed, keep going to Mass, get involved in their parishes, avoid drugs and save their purity for marriage.
When I preach at a confirmation, I speak about the fact that, amid the voices that say God does not exist and religion is irrelevant, amid all of the violence and sin around us, these young people have listened to one insistent, quiet, loving, gentle, persistent voice that keeps saying, “Come, follow me!”
It is the same voice that Peter heard on the Lake of Galilee, that Francis of Assisi heard from the crucifix, that Mother Teresa heard in her convent. The voice of Jesus Christ resounds in all of our hearts, calling us to communion with him and his church, inviting us to cast out to the deep, bidding us to set the sail of our life to the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit.
Praise God for the thousands of young people all over the archdiocese who are stepping forward to give their lives to Christ! Their example renews all of us in our passion for Jesus and his holy Gospel.