The iGen generation may be rejoicing right now amid the social distancing requirements and cancelation of most in-person gatherings. Teenagers can now legitimately hide behind their screens to stay connected with their studies, friends, and even Confirmation preparation classes.
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While this generation may not be feeling the stress or anxiety of social distancing as other generations, it is important to recognize the challenges with remote sacramental preparation and how to overcome them in the weeks ahead. Below are some common challenges that are to be expected during this time for those leading Confirmation preparation and suggestions for working through them.
Gauging Active and Actual Participation
If you are using a video-based Confirmation preparation program, it will be difficult to know if students are watching the videos and gleaning information from them—though this is also difficult to do in person as well. Suggesting to parents that they watch the videos with their teen and discuss the content with them afterward is an option. If your program is using a small group model, small group leaders can set up audio or video conferences with the students (with parental permission) to discuss the content. In either case, you can ask students to submit email reflections on the videos, asking for personal applications of the material in their own lives.
Limiting Screen Time
Some have voiced concern of the current strain on internet bandwidth given the sudden increase in the number of people working from home, students using resources to attend school virtually, or binging on streaming video content. With many adults and students now spending so many hours online, adding religious education to the mix may not be healthy—or even feasible—for some families. Limiting screen time in these coming weeks will be important for maintaining mental, physical, and even spiritual health.
The practice of limiting screen time can become an important teaching moment about the sacraments. The sacraments have a material component—something tangible, sensible, and real—without which the sacrament could not happen. Without water, there can be no baptisms; without bread and wine, the Eucharist cannot be consecrated; without sacred oils, anointing for the sick and baptisms, confirmations and ordinations cannot take place; without a man and a woman, there cannot be a marriage; and without the words of a penitent, there is no confession of sin. Receiving grace, something intangible, becomes a tangible reality through the sacraments. Confirmation students can be asked to reflect on the importance of the physical world, of the importance of the interaction with creation, people and themselves, and what that means about their understanding of grace and the faith.
Learning to Pray and Live in Community
Confirmation prepares Catholics to take on the responsibility of living the Faith as their own. Committing to a life of faith—of prayer, growth in understanding of the Faith, participation in the sacraments, and charity—necessarily happens in community. We are meant to be in communion with one another and with God. During this time of increased isolation, it will be important for parents and teachers to encourage communal life, even if that simply means spending time together as a family.
Teachers can ask students to try to live out one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit each week. This will require the students to learn more about the gift and then be creative with how to give that gift to those around them. Sharing these experiences, either in reflections or through online discussion groups, can be an uplifting way to encourage deeper and more authentic human interactions.
Providing students with different methods and resources for personal prayer will also be vital during these coming weeks. Perhaps providing students with a personal mini-retreat, with daily webinar conferences, or written reflections by the saints on prayer can instill a daily habit of prayer. Suggesting daily Gospel reflections, viewing online Masses, or books on prayer and the saints is vitally important. As a teacher, making time to pray for each of your students—and letting them know that you are doing so—will strengthen the sense of community and power of prayer. Students can be encouraged to share intercessions with each other or the group, and they can offer to pray daily for the intercessions of their friends. If parishes are still open for Eucharistic Adoration or confession in your area, suggest to the students participate in these as often as they are able.
Encouraging Those Struggling with Depression and Anxiety
Unfortunately, many teens today suffer from depression or anxiety, or both. Under the current circumstances, depression and anxiety may worsen—and more students may begin to feel the strain of isolation as their usual routine has been disrupted and many important activities or events have been canceled. It will be important to encourage reflection on the positive things happening in the world or the lives of the teens and to remind them of God’s constant presence and protection.
God has not abandoned his people, and teens need to know this and live with this faith. Suggest to teachers or small group leaders write letters to their teens, telling them why they are important, what is unique or special about them, or why they enjoy teaching them. Encourage students to keep a gratitude journal and to write down five things they are grateful for every day. Be sure to “assign” something fun for the students to do, whether that be baking cookies, playing board games or card games with their family, going on a hike outside, or doing an art project. Finally, keep in touch with the parents and remind them to check-in with their teens regarding their mood or stress levels, and to participate in some of these stress-relieving or fun activities with them.
As we continue to pray for the world and all those affected by COVID-19, let us also lift up those preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, that this unique time of preparation will inspire in their hearts a deep love for Christ and his Church.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.
Do you have any ideas on how to run a successful Confirmation class remotely? Share your ideas in the comments below. Thanks!
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Caroline Harvey is the associate communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Prior to working at the archdiocese, Caroline worked in various ministry positions throughout southeast Wisconsin, focusing on teaching and discipleship. She is currently pursuing a doctor of ministry degree in liturgical catechesis from the Catholic University of America. She has a master of arts degree in biblical theology and a bachelor of arts in communications media from John Paul the Great Catholic University.