Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Confirmation...and conversion?

Ah, yes, more on Confirmation and conversion.

I guess both have been top of mind for me since two of my most recent postings have dealt with both topics separately.

But, if we were to look deeper, don't these two topics actually have a very direct relatedness?

I think for many Confirmation programs, the primary focus has been catechesis. And I LOVE catechesis. I was raised with it in my house. I desire to not only understand the Catholic life better, but how to better share that life with others.

The fact of the matter is that my teenage years - which were spent diving into Catholic teaching, thanks to my parental catechists - is very unlike the experience of many young people today.

Now, my experience of serving the Church as a youth minister has led me to not only appreciate my parents' gift of our weekly Sunday morning breakfast catechism classes, but to know that there is a strong desire in families to have a similar faith formation. However, instead of doing within the "domestic Church", many families come to the our youth ministries to fill that void.

I interview all of our Confirmation candidates. And, to a person, all of them say that they want to be confirmed to be closer to God, to understand Him more, to be an "adult" member of the Church.

All great responses. But, to be honest, those are the answers you would expect from people who have a very outside-looking-in perspective of their faith.

So, there are questions that come to mind...
  • Does catechesis and encounter alone really bring teens into a deeper appreciation and understanding of the implications of the Sacrament of Confirmation not just for the present, but for the future as well?
  • Do we, the ministers charged with preparing teens for Confirmation, make assumptions about where our teens are at in their faith journeys instead of entering into the reality of their lives when they come to us?
  • Have we allowed teens to really express how they feel about God, Church, religion, morality, good, bad, even if what they express is not Catholic teaching?
In the interest of serving the Church better, what if we looked at our Confirmation prep activities as agents for...

CONVERSION: What if our primary mission in Confirmation prep was to offer our young people the choice for conversion? What if we invited teens to be blinded like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, that they might see like they haven't before. Because, for me, conversion is much more than catechesis. It is rooted in catechesis for sure. But, the truth is, a high school student who can explain transubstantiation or the trinity is no more likely to attend Mass every Sunday than a student who can't. If our focus was more on conversion, don't we have a better chance at helping teens understand and appreciate their faith better?

ASSESSMENT: Do we take the time to really know where a teen is at in his/her faith? Do we sit down with them to celebrate where their faith has been lived and practiced? Do we identify areas where they can draw closer to Christ, through conversion and with love? I think too often we cattle-herd teens into one option for preparing to receive Confirmation. Come to weekly meetings. Do service. Go on retreat. And while all those things are necessary, teens are at different places on their faith journey. Those different places have distinct qualities and cannot and should not be addressed by one methodology. Of course, we wouldn't know where teens are unless we ask. And listen.

DIALOGUE: High school students are much more aware of the world and the culture than I was when I was their age. As such, I think their questions are much deeper, much more probing. What if we provided a chance for teens to express how they view their lives and their worlds, especially if that view is not shared by the Church in which they want to confirm their faith? Perhaps part of the conversion process is allowing teens to be heard, and loving them especially in their lack of faith and lack of belief. Shouldn't we know what they're thinking so that we can give them the real truth from the source of truth, Jesus Christ?

And if he can change his view on the Sacrament, well then shouldn't I? And if I want my teens to change, then shouldn't I be first willing to change too? Not only in my own faith journey, but also in how I serve them and walk with them to Christ? And, maybe, just maybe, teens haven't embraced catechesis because we haven't made a compelling case for the joys of conversion.

After all, shouldn't our mission be that every teen be confirmed?

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