If you have been working with young people long enough, it is entirely possible that you have sat through a high school production of the musical Into the Woods. The closing song is a cautionary plea reminding us that Children Will Listen. The refrain reminds us:
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
Recently, I had the opportunity to be a part of a large planning process that transformed our diocesan leadership program. Everything was up for grabs. Every program element was re-examined and re-evaluated. Every assumption was debated thoroughly. If we were looking at a session on Evaluation, the initial comment was “Why evaluate anyway?” If we were considering the closing slide show, we asked, “Why is the slide show at the end anyway?”
So here’s your question: Why Confirmation anyway?
No matter if it is consciously or unconsciously, we are communicating the answer to this question in every statement we make, every handout we provide, and in our response to every problem that arises. Others are listening. Careful the things that you say.
As you enter into planning for the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, each element should be able to communicate to the parish community, to the parents, and to the young people a consistent response to “Why Confirmation anyway?”
Consider the message you might be sending:
- Confirmation is not the “alpha” and the “omega” of a young person’s catechetical life. The National Directory for Catechesis reminds us that catechesis “is a lifelong process for the individual and a constant and concerted pastoral activity of the Christian Community.” Therefore, any suggestion that Confirmation looks, feels, and/or sounds like a high school graduation is sending the wrong message.
- Eliminate the word mandatory. Our programs should not be about demanding that the confirmandi fit into our plan. Our confirmandi should not be evaluating their own “successfulness” or completion based upon the perceived needs of the parish staff.Use of the word mandatory suggests a definition of the overall climate/spirit of the parish community. Does subjecting an experience as mandatory imply desire for participation or a need for compliance? Our parishes should be about “can do” experiences. We desire to be a church of “Yes!” Saying “No” does not make us stronger. We want to present ourselves, our church as “being positive, of being open.”
- As the first goal of Renewing the Vision indicates, we are “to empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today.” We are inviting young people to grow further in discipleship. Discipleship! Discipleship! Discipleship! If we are “on message,” everyone should continually hear this invitation.Many of us grew up in that whole “soldiers of Christ” metaphor for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Two years ago, Pope Benedict addressed his own soldiers, the Swiss Guard. To his soldiers, he said this about their mission:
The Lord calls you to holiness, to be his disciples, always ready to listen to his voice, to fulfill his will and to realize it in the daily accomplishment of your duties. This will help make of you ‘good Christians’ and at the same time ‘exemplary soldiers,’ animated by that evangelical spirit which makes each of the baptized a ‘leaven’ to uplift the rest and a ‘light’ that shines and warms in the places you live and work.
Careful the things you say. Careful the things you do. Children will see and learn.