Consider your Confirmation preparation process to be like a high school dance. There is the bishop right in the middle, attempting to gather up a “line dance” of discipleship. The pastor and the parish staff are all racing around the room attempting to ensure that the environment is conducive for a successful dance. Other caring adults, catechists, and leaders are each attempting to keep the energy and enthusiasm up . . . and there are all those kids, each on the floor with a wide range of knowledge, passion, or lack thereof for this dance of the Spirit.
A wallflower is one who remains on the sidelines of an activity due possibly to shyness or unpopularity. Unfortunately, we can look around many confirmation preparation “dances” and find some sacramental wallflowers tucked away in the dark corners. It is not uncommon that those who are not fully engaged into the rhythm of our efforts are adults – both parents and sponsors.
The Code of Canon Law (890) reminds us that both “Parents and pastors of souls, especially parish priests, are to see that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the opportune time.” It is beyond time that we go beyond offering programmatic lip service to the reality that parents are the primary catechists of their children. “Nothing replaces family catechesis, especially for its positive and receptive environment, for the example of adults, and for its first explicit experience and practice of the faith.” (National Directory for Catechesis, 202)
The Code of Canon Law (892) further reminds us that the sponsor’s function “is to take care that the person confirmed behaves as a true witness of Christ and faithfully fulfils the duties inherent in this sacrament.” Sponsors are called to be companions on the journey dedicated to confirmandi’s personal and spiritual growth. They are both a personal model of lived faith as well as a living face serving on behalf of the larger church.
Yet, when it comes to many parishes’ efforts regarding the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, we only ask two things from these adults 1) Show up and 2) Make sure to turn in your paperwork. And then, after the fact, we complain they are so disengaged.
Parents and Sponsors should anticipate three things from us:
- Clear and Consistent Communication – We can often wrongly treat parents and sponsors as consumers in our Confirmation preparation efforts. If we do so, we can anticipate that when they no longer need our Sacramental product, we should not expect to see them or their young people anymore. They need to be consistently informed of both schedule and expectations.
- Training – When we gather with our parents and sponsors, we should train them for beyond the moment of Confirmation. We need to move beyond a “Carpe Diem” approach that only provides them with information related to the immediate needs of the program. A “Carpe Mañana” approach would equip them with skills for their relationships with their young people, the ability to share faith with them, and the importance and value for young people of the personal witness of their lives.
- Prayer – Our personal and communal prayer, when it comes to the Sacrament of Confirmation, naturally turns towards the confirmandi. The sacrament is not only about young people coming towards the Church, but the Church serving the young people. Our prayer intentions should celebrate, in the words of Isaiah (52:7), how beautiful are the feet of those “who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’”
At a recent diocesan delegation meeting set in advance of our travels to the National Catholic Youth Conference, the Archdiocesan Youth Advisory Council was teaching cheers to the participants. Many parents and advisors were present, but mostly were just wallflowers, looking on as their kids learned hand motions and chants.
At the end of that process, one AYAC member, a young woman named Molly, took it upon herself to challenge the adults in the room. “When you baptized your kids,” she said, “you committed to supporting and encouraging us in your faith. This is one of those moments!” She then asked the young people to go to their adults and re-teach the same cheers to the elders in the community. Throughout the room, pockets of young people and adults formed, each attempting to out-cheer one another.
Renewing the Vision reminded us of Pope John Paul II’s claim that “This is what is needed: a Church for young people, … a Church which will know how to invite and to welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel.”
If we are going to require much, after having been given much, then we are going to need even more collaborators than we can imagine. Molly was right to look into the lives of young people themselves to find parents and other caring adults as partners in this task. Molly found the wallflowers and invited them to join in the dance.