Gospel Reflection: Org Charts and Confirmation Smarts

Gospel Reflection: Org Charts and Confirmation Smarts May 13, 2023

The gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter provides confirmation of the radical organizational chart in the employee handbook for Christianity, Inc.

Beautiful valley
Noah Samuel Franz/Unsplash

I have been teaching confirmation preparation classes to eighth graders in my parish over the last eight months. I’ve learned a few things. First, 25 eighth-grade boys and girls together in one room are . . . a lot. Second, they are both delightful and annoying, often at the same moment. And third, they can wolf down snacks quicker than ice melts on a hot day in July.

I’ve also learned something about the unspoken organizational structure of the group that took shape over the first couple of months. Those who knew two or three others before the start of the class became more comfortable quicker than those who didn’t know anyone else. Some of the more self-confident extroverts among them became the defacto leaders of the class, for good or for ill — often both. Despite my best efforts, a few shy girls never seemed at ease. One group of students whose native language is not English stuck closely together even if they hadn’t known each other previously.

Org Charts Are For More Than Companies

In other words, if you asked me to map out an “organizational chart” representing the group’s power dynamics, I could do it in seconds.

Together they will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in two weeks, aptly timed to coincide with the whole Church’s celebration of Pentecost. Along with Baptism and First Communion, Confirmation is the last of the Catholic Church’s three “Sacraments of Initiation.” But what exactly are they being “initiated” into? What exactly are they “confirming?” And what have we already been initiated into and confirmed for ourselves? The gospel readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter point to some answers.

The readings from John during the weeks after Easter move around depending on which liturgical cycle we’re in. The opening boxes and connecting lines of Christianity, Inc’s organizational chart were drawn on the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Jesus clarified that he doesn’t have his own box at the end of a line down from God, the Creator. Although we are tempted to put them in their own individual boxes, they reside in the same space.

 Organizational Chart – Christianity, Inc.

In Cycle A, on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we hear Jesus explain the lines that come down from that original God/Jesus box to us. He tells us that if his disciples belong on the org chart, then they must follow his commands. But there’s really just one – to love. Not exactly rocket science.

Organizational Chart – Christianity, Inc.

Confirmation and the Holy Spirit

In Cycle B, the gospel reading has Jesus telling his disciples that he will send an “Advocate” – the Holy Spirit – to guide them when he is no longer physically present. But again, instead of the Spirit getting its own box on the org chart, the “God/Jesus” box just gets a little bigger.

Christianity, Inc. – Organizational Chart

During Cycle C, the gospel reading has Jesus explaining that he is the vine and we are the branches. In other words, because of Jesus, there is a real opportunity to flatten the org chart entirely. If we truly accept the life we are called to, perhaps a more accurate organizational chart would look like this.

Christianity, Inc. – Organizational Chart

This reality is what we are symbolically initiated into at Baptism and through First Communion. And it’s this reality that we affirm through Confirmation. The radical Christian message is that through our experience of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have recognized our invitation into the prime real estate at the top of the org chart. We have a word to describe this phenomenon. We call it “salvation.”

An Ironic Turn

Of course, as I’ve written before, the irony here is bitter. The core of the Catholic faith itself is this beautiful, flat valley of an org chart, while the institutional Church is steeped in tall mountains of hierarchy. It’s also hard to bridge the gap between a Christian message with just one simple rule – to love –and the institutional Church, whose directives take up volumes.

In her book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren F. Winner describes a girl unsure about going through with Confirmation because she wasn’t entirely sure what she believed about God and life and right and wrong. But her father told her, “What you promise when you are confirmed . . . is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.

The org chart with the one large circle points to a story worth wrestling with forever. The young people in my confirmation preparation class have much wrestling yet to do. But then again, so do I. And that’s a good thing.

Browse Our Archives