sklbaIt may be hard to believe, but once again I come to the end of another confirmation season … my 31st to be exact. According to my records, thus far this year I was privileged to preside over the confirmation of 1,411 young men and women in 26 ceremonies across the archdiocese (slightly fewer than last year). So many scattered observations come to mind.

Last month I used the title of “Believing and Belonging” for a reflection on the Eucharist, but the same phrase applies to the preparation for confirmation; these young people struggle to believe and to belong. For a mature Catholic, even at this time of ecclesial unrest, spirituality and community are two sides of the same coin.

Several things have remained the same over these three decades: adolescents (three years out of grade school) both loving their parents and straining to keep a distance … moving surprisingly in less than a year from feigned boredom and reluctant resistance to any religious program through a stirring of interest and into a desire to be a participant … puzzled by not knowing how to juggle the parts of church teaching and life with which they disagree at the moment … and choosing to take a different stance from their parents while echoing what they have heard over the supper table.

Other things are more recent developments: a newer attachment to the Catholic tradition even if the individual candidate may feel that certain teachings or practices are not acceptable to a modern mentality. Young people want to be Catholic because they can experience “young minds wrestling with old questions,” and because they want a “community which is willing to live with the big questions.” I find a new openness on the part of students attending a Catholic school to enter parish programs with public school students without a sense of false superiority.

Archbishop Listecki and Bishop Callahan may have their own respective observations; the following represent considerations which I myself have personally noted and experienced in a special way:

Youth ministry directors are at their best when they are deeply committed to the church but not too narrow in their Catholicism, and can bridge solid content with meaningful devotion. Parishes exercise good stewardship in keeping this as a priority in the budget!

Important topics. Four Catholic topics seem particularly crucial at this moment in history:

  • the Catholic approach to the Scriptures,

  • the full notion of sacraments,

  • Catholic identity in an ecumenical world and

  • the relationship between faith and science.

In reference to the last item, I’m still startled to discover pockets of students who think that the Catholic Church teaches creation in seven days or that the church is opposed to evolution. I’m also surprised to find students and teachers oblivious to the fact that a truly global church will contain different cultural approaches to aspects/challenges of the modern world. American Catholics are only 6 percent of the total global population. Any contemporary high school program should have resources and catechists well versed in these four topics. These are even more fundamental than the “hot button” issues which appear so often in media litanies of controversial questions … even though the latter also need to be addressed by catechists with good background information.

Retreats. Overnight retreats continue to be keys to a successful program and positive results; research suggests that students who have experienced a good retreat tend to be life-long, active Catholics. The best programs include some playfulness, faith sharing, prayer, opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation and letters from parents. A carefully planned retreat is able to transform a reluctant arrival into a joyous departing participant.

Service. The most rewarding and transforming service projects are those which are clearly rooted in a motivation of faith and then move the students out of their comfort zone.

New names. While reaffirming a baptismal name has value for the student moving into young maturity, a new name at confirmation can also be very helpful in creating a bond with the larger communion of saints over history. This is a way of countering the excessive individualism of our culture, and raising a question about the ease with which names of soap opera stars or sitcoms move into the sphere of confirmation. I like the archbishop’s renewed emphasis on this practice.

Letters to the bishop. I love these letters and appreciate those which acknowledge the personal interests and gifts of the candidate, speak candidly about family heartaches, list the most helpful highlights of the preparation program, describe a particularly beneficial service project and list the name of the student’s high school.

It might be helpful to explain to candidates why weekly attendance at Mass is a perfect experience of everything of importance in Catholic spirituality. Everything is there! By the way, it’s difficult to be effective in forbidding gum chewing during the service, particularly when a look across the congregation reveals grandma doing the same thing back in the 10th row!

I wish that the newly confirmed understand the important symbol of receiving Communion under both species, especially at this final sacrament of initiation!

Some of the comments above may be personal preferences and even pet peeves, but they come to mind as I bring confirmation season 2010 to conclusion. Once again it has been a privilege and a grace! Special thanks to pastors, catechists and parents!