More than 1,200 confirmation candidates and their sponsors came to St. Mary, Hales Corners, Jan. 25 to hear Rich Curran speak about the sacrament the teens will receive this spring. (Catholic Herald photo by Allan Fredrickson)

“I get that; I know I would rather be home,” Curran agreed. “But I am less concerned about how you got here than how you leave tonight.”

He told the crowd of his own transformation and calling to search for a deeper meaning in his life. During his sophomore year in college, an accident had left him temporarily paralyzed and contemplating his own meaning. Answering the call to minister to youth, Curran worked in social services, served as the director of Youth and Family Ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay, and has been speaking to teens and other groups for about 15 years.

The son of Irish-Catholic immigrants, Curran’s ability to “get real” and reach his audience through humor and plain talk was evident. The regular murmuring in the crowd fell silent, as they listened intently to stories both poignant and funny.

“I could identify with his stories related to sports,” commented Dominick Ratkowski, 17, of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Milwaukee. “I found the stories interesting, as they emphasized the ideas we are currently learning in confirmation class.”

Curran’s message was one of continuing formation that does not end with the sacrament of confirmation, but marks a starting point to be an influence in the lives of others.

“The pope still studies; being Catholic is about constant study,” explained Curran.

While humorous moments kept the crowd engaged – Curran talked about the ‘Catholic aerobics’ of sitting, standing and kneeling throughout the Mass and at one point had everyone standing on cue during a rendition of ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ – there was always an underlying point of meaning.

“Catholics have a lot of ritual, but the danger is that the ritual becomes meaningless,” Curran said.  “Break open the meaning; every facet of church, of the Mass, has meaning and is highly organized.”

Recognizing the technology age also draws people, especially teens, away from realizing a relationship with God, Curran then challenged the group to step back from the busy-ness of life and the distraction of iPods, cell phones and the like.

“God is calling us – every one of us – and as a public witness, we need to do all we can to come to know the living, breathing God in our lives,” Curran said. “The one thing we’re really wanting is oneness with God, and the fact is you don’t need to purchase or search for God anywhere – he is already in you. You have the ability to change lives, you have greatness inside you … you just have to go in and down.”

“Going in and down” is also how Curran feels reaching teens can be done most effectively.

“We can’t beat around the bush with these kids. You have to get to the point. Most kids are hungry to have people ‘get real’ with them,” he said. “We like to pretend it’s all OK, but we don’t live in a Brady Bunch world, and kids want to have the in-depth conversations and, unfortunately, many adults aren’t comfortable having those conversations.

“When we connect faith to life situations, we achieve real catechesis,” he added.

Elisabeth Loomis, 17, of St. Mary, Hales Corners, felt the connections Curran made helped reinforce her own formation experience.

“I enjoyed his stories and how he put those experiences together with his message of God’s calling you.  They were both funny and sad, but they helped explain how you can see God working in your life,”  she said.

According to Curran, his own faith has helped keep him and his message real by serving to keep his ego in check.

“It can be easy to think it’s you versus the Lord working through you,” he explained. “Support systems keep me in check, and having an active prayer life keeps your message authentic.”

Despite the growing distraction of technology, Curran also said the message of people’s own power to help others and make a difference has become easier to convey.

“The opportunity to gather together is key. Technology has created a hunger for human contact that a computer can’t provide, and I think as the years have gone on, it’s actually become easier to reach people with this message,” he said.