Bishops take to the Chrism Trail during the Easter Season.
This is a reference to the majority of the confirmations celebrated in our parishes. Most of our candidates are confirmed around the age of 16 or 17, which gives me an opportunity to confront the individual and impress upon him or her the importance of living his or her faith.
Many of our parents and grandparents express a great concern, worrying whether their child will continue to practice the faith when he or she is on his or her own. The statistics are shocking when it comes to the practice of the faith by our young. Although confirmation cannot be the sole source for the continuation of the faith, it certainly is an important moment in the life of the teen now called upon to accept the responsibility of living faith.
Our DREs (directors of religious education) do a great job in developing programs that assist the candidate in preparing to receive the sacrament.
There is catechesis, the understanding of the teachings of the church. Retreats and prayer opportunities give the candidate an opportunity to grow in his or her spiritual life and a service component which encourages the candidate to reach out to those in need in the name of Jesus.
“The Perry Como Show” was a popular TV show during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. In one segment, he would sing, “I get letters, I get letters, I get stacks and stacks of letters,” and then Perry would answer individual letters with a song.
Among the activities a candidate performs in preparation for the reception of the sacrament is writing a letter to the confirming bishop. Much like Perry Como, I get stacks and stacks of letters, usually in excess of 2,000 during the confirmation season.
The letters are collected by the director of religious education and sent to me. They vary in composition, but basically they are a request for the sacrament. It’s important to remember the candidate, not his or her parents, is requesting the sacrament.
There have been times in these letters when the candidate expressed that he or she really doesn’t wish to be confirmed. I respect their decision and will not confirm them. Sometimes they just need more time to mature in the faith.
Sometimes they just don’t desire to practice the faith. The reception of the sacrament must be their decision.
The letter may also contain additional information about their family life, interests or even the challenges they face in school. Many parents would be surprised to discover how important family is to the candidate in the practice of his or her faith.
They speak about the growth process that has occurred during their preparation for the sacrament. Some start the process by claiming they were closed-minded and really didn’t want to be there. Then slowly an understanding begins about the importance of God and the church in their lives.
In the letter, some will introduce their sponsors and disclose why they chose this particular person to stand with them for the sacrament. Sponsors are great mentors, role models, inspirations or cherished relatives.
Always interesting is the reason they selected the name that they wish to be confirmed. Saints can be a real source of Catholic education and often the candidate finds a spiritual link to the saint’s activity or virtue that empowers them.
I read all the letters. Many students are surprised I take the time out of my schedule to do so.
One young man thought the letter writing was a meaningless exercise and that no one, especially the bishop with his busy schedule, paid any attention to it. His letter began … “I am writing this letter to you bishop, but I doubt that you’ll read it. There are over 100 candidates writing to you, so you can’t possibly read them all, so it doesn’t matter what I really write.”
The rest of his letter was really pretty good. When it came time for his confirmation, I took his letter and folded it, placing it in my pocket. I asked the pastor to inform me when this young man was coming forward.
As he stood before me, I confirmed him and then took the letter out of my pocket. I said please don’t think that the bishop will not read your letter. His face turned a bright red. I smiled and told him, “Please take your DRE and me at our word that your letter will be read. It is important to me because your faith life is important to me.”
Some of the candidates talk about the struggles to maintain and profess their faith in their high school environment. It must be difficult to be a high school student of faith in a secular environment.
Some experience the belittling not only of their faith but any of their classmates who express their faith. I have often said that we live in a secular society threatened by religion, oftentimes even viewing religion as the enemy.
The decision to be confirmed can be a courageous decision in the face of peer pressure to reject faith.
It is well known that I speak to each of the candidates. It’s perhaps the last opportunity that I will have to eyeball them and ask them about their faith.
Most know that I will ask of their decision to select a name. They will talk of the saints and the reason they selected them or perhaps they will explain why they’ve chosen to keep their baptismal name. In either case, it is another means to claim the sacrament for themselves.
Pope Francis recently asked us to discover the date of our baptism, a means of celebrating the importance of our birth in Christ. I doubt whether any of us would even know the date of our confirmation, the celebration of the fullness of our life in the church.
What do you remember about your confirmation?
What is your confirmation name?
How has it “confirmed” you in the faith?
If you were to write me a letter now asking for confirmation, what would you write?