Pop quiz for the grown ups.
Do you remember being confirmed?
Do you remember your confirmation saint and why you chose that person?
Do you remember your confirmation sponsor?
Do you remember feeling like, now I know exactly what God intends for me to do and has equipped me to do it?
Because my answers are yes, yes, yes and no. I also can tell you without telling you, I picked my confirmation saint name in an attempt to impress the other kids in my class, but I was bummed because so many of my classmates chose the ones that had stories I liked…and I didn’t want to seem like a copy cat. (Not a mature reason to be sure but the Holy Spirit worked with me in spite of my motivations). Do I remember my confirmation sponsor? Sure, we’re friends on Facebook to this day.
Despite my answer to the fourth question, I remember the sacrament fondly and it remains to this day, my favorite of the seven God gave the church. I wish people understood it more deeply, and I wish the children, mine and others, could anticipate it as gift it is. However, I’m guessing none of us can, since we’re being given something we’ve not yet known, the Holy Spirit in this capacity. Additionally, I didn’t understand then as much as I thought I did. Admitting this reality doesn’t cost my spirit much, but admitting there is much I should examine if as an adult I wish to embrace the faith more fully, does. We’ve been confirmed. We’ve been commissioned for specific missions by the Holy Spirit, and given the graces to live it out. Am I? Are we? The answer is always “Not yet fully” for all kinds of reasons.
If we were all busy being the Catholics we were called to be, we’d be a lot less interested in how badly others are doing at being Catholic. We’re not to be gate keepers of the faith who fend off the lost. We’re to be sheep who are trying not to get lost ourselves, but bleating all the time for our master to come and lead us onward. Herding those I love in one direction is hard, and they have a reason to follow me. I have the food. I have the car. I have the schedule…and I might stop by their favorite store or two. They don’t always…being real people with real thoughts and like their mother, infinitely distractable.
The kids trust we will feed them –sometimes apples, carrots, spinach and chicken, and other times, burgers and fries and brownies. They trust we will introduce them to what I think is great. They may roll their eyes at the poetry or the band lessons or sports or yes, the mass, but elements of what we present will remain part of what they love and who they are long after they stop needing us to organize everything or get them from point A to point B.
That’s what we hope with everything we give them in their upbringing, that what we give and what we’ve presented becomes neccessary out of more than nostalgia, out of an understanding that this faith is not merely a tradition, this faith is a lived reality and necessary for one to really live.
Why am I bringing this up? Because Confirmation season is coming up, and there’s tremendous social and emotional pressure on 8th graders to wear the robes, say the words, and take the picture with the bishop. Not all of them are ready. Some of them know this. Sometimes, we know this. Some of them struggle with teachings of the church in earnest. Others, are simply as of yet, luke warm. The sacrament received is not magic, it is a bestowing of special grace. It too must be fully received to be fully accessed. The gifts are there for the Confirmed to explore, but they too require the assent of the individual. In this season, we need to remember, we are like them, sheep, not border collies of the faith nipping at them if they question or are uncertain.
What can we do as parents with young adolescents who may fear asking the questions or fear the answers, who may not know what they do not know, or who have perhaps strayed intellectually, emotionally or physically from the teachings of the church as they prepare for confirmation?
1) It’s not time for pop quiz catechism. It’s time for their deep questions and your deep listening. Take your teen somewhere physically quiet –a park, a drive in the car, a walk, ice cream, whathave you. Remember faith is not merely a profession of do’s and don’ts that govern living, faith is a relationship with the Trinity, with Confirmation bringing the individual into deeper communion with the mystery of the Trinity, and most intimately, the Holy Spirit.
2) Ask the questions that allow for open answers. “Do you feel ready for Confirmation?” will probably get a yes, no or I don’t know. Asking, how are classes on confirmation going might work better…but, “I saw you chose Gabriel for your saint. Why?” will get you a story. Right now, we need to show these people approaching the sacrament that their stories, their journeys into the faith are part of the stories all of us need. These are the chapters in their lives as future saints. They will include interesting side tracks, side notes, detours, reversals, errors, confusions and yes, sins. They will also include miracles, hope, moments of courage, of service, of healing, of truth and beauty. These souls, each of them, are alarmingly interesting to Christ, and should be to us every step of the way.
3) Ask if they know what an experience with the Holy Spirit is? Here’s where it gets really tricky. Be ready to share when you’ve experienced the whispers or the fire of the Holy Spirit. Moments when you realized you needed to say something or do something, when you know you were being called and asked to stretch out your hand, or to help, to say yes, to act, to pray, to return to the sacraments, or scariest of all, to say no to yourself, to be obedient and silent.
4) Do a personal examination. This is annoyingly important, because kids (especially adolescents) are excellent at seeing flaws, so we must strive to show this faith is worth sacrificing for, and we’re willing to do it. Asking the questions: Am I living the faith in truth? Am I attempting to grow my relationship with God, am I seeking to follow the teachings of Christ in word and deed, by what I do and do not do? Am I refreshing my soul regularly with the sacraments available to me? Or am I using God like a safety net? Does my life reflect Christ’s love for others? If not, where doesn’t it? If not, why not? is part of showing your teen or Confirmation candidate, this preparation is an ongoing thing that extends beyond when you receive. We cannot grow deeper in love if we’re indifferent to the One we profess to love. HINT: Ask the Holy Spirit to show you, where you need to work. P.S. Expect it to ouch.
5) Assure your candidate, not that they must go through the motions this year because their aunt is coming and they want to do it with their class, but that this must be freely chosen. This sacrament is a seal on their heart, and is one time only. Letting them know, this Confirmation is the beginning of their adult life in the faith and that you will let them make the decision to receive or not, because it is an adult decision, may be the hardest adult decision you make about their faith formation. It is however part of what will allow your child the freedom to decide for themselves, that “yes Lord, I believe,” and ask “help my unbelief.” and know that God will. Respect if the answer is, “not yet.” or “No.” It will sting like nothing you’ve known to be sure, but if we’re going to give them the authority to say yes, we must allow for the hard freedom of saying no. I know of no way to sugar coat how hard that answer is when it is what it is, but a not yet or an I don’t know should at least be heard rather than shusshed up. Christ is more invested in inviting our childrens souls to His home than even we are. Surrender them to Him and trust the Good Shepherd not to lose any of them.
6) Pray for your candidate, and ask others to pray for them too that love this person. Lift them in prayer with the Body of Christ they already know. Show them we will continue to accompany them. Show them we too, have not yet arrived. Our journeys in coming to know Christ are ongoing and we are still trying to grow deeper in faith, even as we seek to live out the faith in greater devotion. Tell your candidates your faith storys, admiting when you’ve struggled, when you’ve strayed, when you’ve questioned, and yes, also when it’s been easy. Tell them how in your own life, Christ shows time and time again, that He comes when we cry, He answers when we ask, and He leads us to where we can find true food, true rest and true peace.
7) Ask others to write their faith stories to your candidate –their sponsor, godparents, grandparents, favorite cousins and trusted adults in their lives. The witness of stories they don’t know, may spark their own faith, and show it isn’t just Mom and Dad and the parish or the school that live this, it’s all of us.
None of this will guarantee your candidate for Confirmation is ready, or that they will cling to it, but it will show your child that you take their faith development and their questions and journey seriously. It will illustrate to them you too are in the process of embracing the gifts give that you may not have understood at Confirmation, that you and all in the Body of Christ on this earth are in the “Not yet fully” part of cooperating with salvation. It will also show them that God is not abstract or removed, and a relationship with Him, is an ongoing pursuit that takes a lifetime, but brings with it, serious joy, absolute wonder, and the promise of forever true beauty.
P.S. Write them letters after Confirmation too, about the ongoing journey from time to time, and maybe reengage in some service and study of your own and invite them to be part of it. The person who may go deeper and deeper in at the time may be you, but it may be by that act, that later, they find themselves surprised by joy too.