They sat, almost sullenly, in a loose circle, masked up, eyes cast down. It didn’t take an expert on teens to see these kids were here unwillingly. When asked why they attended there was a pause. No one wanted to admit it was because their parents were forcing them to be there. No one made eye contact and they shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They knew what I wanted to hear but they had enough integrity to forgo lying to make this unknown adult feel good.
I gave them permission to be real – “No judgment,” I told them. One squeaked out, apologetically almost, that it is what her family does; so she’s doing it. Another quoted her mom who advised, “Just get it over with.” The rest engaged in nervous avoidance techniques. This was my first confirmation small group.
I left the meeting feeling sad, and that sadness hung around for a few days tugging and poking at me much like a strained muscle that zings periodically to remind you that something isn’t right. I can’t say exactly why I volunteered to lead this group other than a persistent internal push I was feeling. My own kids have cleared the confirmation hurdle; yet there I was, in a church basement with a band of reluctant teens.
The sadness that shadowed me was born of witnessing first-hand the spiritual malaise in the Catholic Church. Some of these kids were products of eight or more years of Catholic education. If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known which were and which weren’t. As we talked about grace and the sacraments, I realized that not only did they not know what was meant by those concepts, but more troubling, they didn’t care. God’s grace is irrelevant to their lives. My heart hurts for these kids.
I expend a decent amount of mental energy worrying about the world. I know it is hard to be a person of faith – look at what Amy Coney Barrett and Chris Pratt have recently endured. They are both well-formed adults, though – they can take it. Teens are still kids masquerading in adult size bodies. Unless they are fortified with more than B vitamins, they can’t take it. The lies our culture is promulgating will suck them in. They need grace. It’s not their fault they don’t know what it is.
As I looked at their sweet faces and as I’ve prayed for them, my desire to share the joy of Jesus has increased. I don’t want for them to just know what grace is or be able to recite the seven sacraments. I don’t want them to just rattle off the fruits of the Spirit or be comfortable with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I want them to believe in their hearts that they are beautifully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139) I want them to sit with the truth that they are daughters and sons of not just their parents but of God – the God who created the universe.
I want them to understand that he created each of them intentionally, with purpose. They are not just a happy collision of genes and cells. They are souls who are loved more by God than they can ever comprehend.
He desires to shower love and mercy on them. I want them to believe, truly believe that God knows them and loves them.
He is calling them, flaws and all, to himself. He has big plans for goodness for them. (Jeremiah 29) He isn’t trying to restrict them; rather give them freedom. He isn’t concerned with rules so much as love.
I want them to contemplate what Jesus’ death was for and why it’s significant that he rose from the dead and how that matters to them personally. The passion of Christ isn’t just a story; it’s a gift for every one of us.
I want them to walk away from this year of formation embracing this because the rest will follow.
These are big desires. These are building blocks to a deep, rich faith life that culminates in surrendering ourselves to God and ultimately living in eternal unity with him which is the whole reason for this wild ride of life.
Jesus has a plan for this year and I believe something beautiful is going to happen. I’m looking forward to watching it unfold.