A new year of Confirmation classes and a new group of candidates are upon us. I want to make a little confession. Every year, about a week before the first parent meeting, I panic a little. Sure, I take a deep breath and it’s all fine, but I’ll admit that I panic a little. I see the registrations pouring in, think about ways to improve beyond what we did the previous year, and my heart pounds a bit. Here’s why …
How many teens go through with Confirmation only to become ex-Catholics in the future? The statistics over the past few decades aren’t exactly encouraging. I think about the fact that many of the candidates who will come into the program this year are barely engaged in parish life. Some hardly ever attend Mass and frankly, neither do their parents. Many families are simply hanging by a thread.
Confirmation preparation can be a make or break moment for the candidates; either the moment of encounter that opens their hearts to the adventure of lifelong discipleship or a flat and uninspiring obligation that precedes another exodus from the Church.
These are high stakes, so yeah … I panic a little. Then, every year, I breathe and remember some things that transform panic into a proper and productive sense of urgency. I figure that I’m not the only one, so I’ll share some encouraging thoughts that help me to focus and get that interior soundtrack to sound more like Rocky (think “Eye of the Tiger”) than The Shining.
When we on the Confirmation team were confirmed, we received the Holy Spirit.
We make a big deal to the candidates that our Confirmation program isn’t preparation for graduation. It’s preparation for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (I’m going to guess that you’ve found yourself saying the same thing.) If that’s true, then all of the things we are preaching to candidates about gifts of the Holy Spirit and identity and mission apply to us! It’s a simple and obvious thought, but it reorients the way I look at things.
Everything I hope for the candidates in front of me is what the Holy Spirit desires for me and my whole team! And we have been confirmed. We need to make the work of our program about passing on a flame that is already burning brightly in each of us. When I get bogged down by other things, this reality is a major game changer.
We have good news that addresses the deepest longings of the human heart.
Another refocusing thought is a call back to the gospel itself. Every candidate who comes into our program has a heart made for God. Each of them carries around hurts, burdens, and worries. Some who come to us will have been through profound suffering in their young lives. What we are preparing for is an outpouring of love and grace that can root candidates in a spirit of freedom and adoption, “to cry out ABBA, Father!” (Romans 8:15).
I think about candidates from a decade ago, and how God has worked in their lives and hearts to bring hope and freedom. Then I hold onto these examples as signs of hope. I remember that God wants their freedom and their hearts. The panic then fades and the proper urgency grows.
All of this is a preparation for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t driver’s ed or ACT prep.
There are logistics to deal with and they are important. (Thankfully, in my case, I don’t have to handle all of the paperwork myself. Thank you, Sheri and Colleen. You are amazing!) It is easy to get bogged down in logistical things like paperwork and preparation for the Confirmation Mass. Dress code, rehearsal, registration, ordering materials, and so on. There are lots of “Martha jobs” that come with Confirmation preparation. When it comes to the preparation program there is also the temptation to aim for candidates who could win at “Catholic Jeopardy!” or score high on a standardized doctrinal ACT, with their heads packed full of catechetical trivia.
While the logistics are important and the transmission of the content of the Faith is vital, neither of these things are the point. The point (I know I keep saying it) is to prepare candidates for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The point is for minds and hearts to come alive in Faith. When first things are first, the other tasks are less laborious. When you sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary, you don’t mind doing the dishes so much afterward.
It takes a community of disciples to inspire a community of disciples.
One of the things that teens long for the most is a trusted group of friends. They are looking for authentic friendships and a community they can trust. Rather than simply focusing on the delivery of doctrine, though not at the expense of it at all, we can make Confirmation preparation a chance to foster and nurture the culture of our candidates. This is often as simple as mentoring and facilitating good conversation and sharing over the course of the program. Candidates who are bonded together in a common experience of faith are far more likely to continue practicing their faith after Confirmation.
I think about friendships that have been formed or deepened through parish life; about some of those who are on the team with us this year, who model Christian friendship. The candidates will see that and want to be a part of it. From year one, Christianity has grown through the witness of Christian friendship. When I worry about time and content and am tempted to think that social events are a waste of time, I go back to this. Fostering Christ-centered friendships and working toward a community that loves and respects one another is pivotal to evangelization and sacramental preparation.
Talking to and with teens is far more effective than talking at them.
When a group is standoffish, misbehaved, or hostile, it is easy to play into a counter-adversarial role. Don’t. If you do, you play right into the candidate’s pre-determined excuse to tune out. It takes patience to grow a culture in Confirmation preparation. Candidates might be asking questions based on resentment about the whole thing, or it might be a simple lack of trust. They may even feel exposed around one another. For them to be able to really settle in and engage, their insecurities need to to be dealt with.
This is where a small group approach is effective. We need to hear from candidates so we can respond to their real needs and questions. We need to listen to them so we know how to speak effectively to them. God gave us all two ears and one mouth on purpose.
As a Confirmation director I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Finally, I remember what we have learned and done over the years. Each year we need to evaluate and tweak and grow, we don’t have to start from scratch. Having a great program informed by the insights above is crucial. We are armed to the teeth with solid resources and ideas and as we develop things year after year on the calendar—such as events with parents and sponsors—we find that the wisdom and approach of the Chosen program is powerful, tried, and true. Of course my perspective is unique as someone who helped to author the program.
The Chosen Director’s Manual is a reflection of all of this. Throughout the years we have had new ideas about parents, sponsors, service, activities, and checks for understanding. All of it can be found in one place in the manual. (We hope it is a great help to Confirmation directors out there, even those who are new to Chosen.)
So here’s to a renewed opportunity to win minds and hearts to Christ. Here’s to opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit that we received in our own Confirmation, however many years ago. Our prayer for you, and for the whole Church, is that the Holy Spirit will flow through your efforts and renew the face of the earth. (Cue Eye of the Tiger.)
You May Also Like:
Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation (study program)
Chosen Director’s Manual (preorder now, arrives 9/23)
About Colin MacIver
Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides.
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