Since confirmation season has come to a close, allow me to share some thoughts about confirmation. I reflected on the number of confirmations that I have administered in the 11 years that I have been a bishop and realize that I have confirmed nearly 30,000 candidates.
I enjoy celebrating confirmation. It gives me an opportunity in a personal way to challenge the candidate and encourage him or her in the practice of the faith. My confirmation ceremonies tend to be longer than expected, but I think they are well worth it.
I briefly talk to each of the candidates and I usually ask about their saints. I have encouraged the confirmation candidates to choose a saint’s name or their baptismal name but always with the expectation that they know the connection to the Christian tradition. When I first arrived in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I noticed that many of the candidates knew very little about their saints’ names. Names were selected to honor a family member or to affirm their baptismal name without an understanding as to how that name connected with the history of Christianity.
Now in my third season of confirmations, I see a distinct change. The youth ministers, directors of religious education and the catechists have done a wonderful job introducing the candidates to the saints whose name they have selected.
In our short conversations, they explain their selections and some candidates tell me how they were inspired by the virtue of their saint or the good deeds he or she performed. Of course, the reasons for the selection of some saints’ names are easy to understand. I see a young man who has selected Sebastian and I know that the candidate is an athlete as Sebastian is patron of athletes or a young woman who takes the name Cecilia obviously is involved with music as Cecilia is patron of music.
One young man told me that he chose St. Anthony because he loses a lot of stuff and thought that St. Anthony might help him correct that bad habit or at least help him find things quickly. Some students choose a saint because of an illness to themselves or a family member, e.g., St. Peregrine, patron of cancer victims, or St. Blaise, patron of illnesses of the throat, or St. Lucy, patron of sight.
Choosing a name is personal and it is a means of claiming the sacrament. You might wish to reflect on the name you chose for confirmation and look up his or her biography. You might even offer a prayer in the name of your saint. He or she would be glad to hear from you.
Most candidates will also send letters to the presiding bishop. I read all the letters that are sent. It is always fun when a candidate writes, “I know this is an exercise and you won’t read this letter because you have so many.” I usually tuck that one into my pocket so that I can remind the candidate at their confirmation that I do read the letters.
The letters are taken seriously. For instance, if the candidate states that he or she is being forced to receive confirmation or indicates that he or she does not wish to practice the Catholic faith, then the candidate is discouraged from receiving the sacrament at this time. It is an indication that he or she is not ready.
The content and length of the letters vary. In the letter, the candidate states the reason he or she desires confirmation. Most candidates either explicitly or implicitly mention that through the sacrament of confirmation, they wish to be drawn closer to God. The desire to be drawn closer to God is a sentiment that most mature Christians would share.
Many candidates will write about their retreats. The retreat offers them an opportunity to experience God’s presence in their lives and they feed from the witnesses who give testimony to the importance of prayer and living the Catholic faith.
Occasionally, they will tell me about their family, home environment or school. The lives of their grandparents are extremely important. They take note of the tremendous impact that the practice of the faith has made in the lives of their grandparents. It is something they wish to capture for themselves.
I am always amazed at the number of grandparents chosen to be sponsors. It is a good indicator of the strong influence of faith and it is also a reminder of how important family is in the development of our faith lives.
A good number of candidates will discuss the service projects they performed. The service project is often a requirement for completion of the confirmation program. The candidates will speak about how reluctant they were to sacrifice their precious time but then how good they felt seeing how others benefited from their presence and their work.
At first it appears these good deeds are used to build character or good citizenship in the candidate, but the service projects are a means to help the candidate understand the responsibility that a Christian has to assist and share with others in need. The only way we can acknowledge God’s love for us is by loving others in his name. In effect, the good that we do, we do for Christ.
A good faith foundation is provided to the newly confirmed. Those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit work, but like all gifts they need to be opened and generously used as God intends for our good and the good of his holy church. The result is that we will be drawn closer to God.
God willing, I look forward to next season.