Confirmation: Stay Catholic or Not?

Imagine this. One lovely spring afternoon, a 14-year-old boy suddenly goes to his parents and says, “Mom, Dad, I’ve decided that your home isn’t for me. I can’t see myself living here anymore; it just doesn’t feel right. I’m going to run away. Later, guys. Oh, don’t get up. Thanks for everything,” and promptly leaves. The parents rightfully would be dismayed and, in seconds, once they recovered from the shock, they would rush to call him back. On the other hand, if the child were truly incorrigible the parents might be relieved, in which case, we could imagine them responding, “If that’s what you really want, we’re fine with that. Text us when you get to where you’re going. You need money?” In either scenario, we’d wonder what is going on in that family.

But, if the child only went out to sit on the porch seconds after declaring his independence, the parents probably wouldn’t take it too seriously but seriously enough that they would want to talk immediately and find out what was wrong.

Now, let’s go even further and say the boy did run away. What of it? Well, in leaving his family’s home, our 14-year-old has also decided to drop out of high school in his freshman year. Many teens drop out of high school for very serious reasons, few, if any of them, good. Very soon, many of them will find their economic opportunities severely limited. Teens who drop out of school are also a worry to the state and federal government, which have an interest in maintaining an orderly society. Government protects and secures that interest with principals, counselors, social workers, psychologists, age-based curfews, compulsory education laws, police authority, prisons, and G.E.D. programs.

So, in secular society there are some decisions that teenagers are not encouraged or even allowed to make no matter what their human rights are or how grown they believe themselves to be.

However, it seems to be a different situation in the Church. This expression of faith I have heard from some parents and teens concerning Confirmation preparation.

Teen: “I’ve decided that I don’t want to receive Confirmation. When I was a baby, you chose that I would be Catholic. I couldn’t say anything about it. But now that I’m old enough, I’ve decided for myself that I don’t want to be Catholic anymore. It’s not for me.”

Parent: “If that’s your decision, I’m fine with that.”

The first time I heard that kind of conversation I felt like Rip Van Winkle just waking up. St. Monica, pray for us! For somewhere between my own Confirmation at 10 years old and the turn of the 21st Century, the rationale for Confirmation preparation has changed. Today, some Catholics hold to the belief that the purpose of Confirmation preparation is for the young person to decide whether or not he or she wants to ratify their decision and remain Catholic. When I was confirmed, the purpose for Confirmation was for me to become an adult in the faith, a soldier of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. I was never told that I could stop being Catholic, if I wanted to. When did it change? As an adult, in periods of trial and great decisions I have prayed for the graces of my Confirmation to help me through.

Are the “tolerant” parents really prepared for the consequences of their child’s (or children’s) radical free-will choice?

First, if the teen is not going to remain Catholic, he is going to become something, inevitably, if not immediately, whether it is an agnostic, pagan, atheist, wiccan, pantheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Muslim, or so on. He cannot be nothing, for he will live according to someone’s creed, philosophy, and practice, whether or not he wants to be explicitly identified with it. Oh, and the “I’m-spiritual-but-not-religious” justification is nothing more than dangerous self-deception. For would he have any idea of what being “spiritual” is if he had not been Catholic? For how long can a person be “spiritual but not religious” and keep an honest relationship with Jesus who built a Church for us and prayed that his followers would all be one? In time, he will find it difficult to remain spiritual without sacraments and a Church to support and sustain him, especially if he likes structure to his life.

Second, to decide not to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, is to decide to not be Christian, a follower of Jesus. For the sacrament of Confirmation, according to Paragraph 1285 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is one of the three sacraments of Christian Initiation—not of initiation into a Catholic denomination. Confirmation completes the rite of initiation; it is not a fork in the road. A teen who no longer wants to be Catholic was free to leave long before he began preparing to not be confirmed. He is now choosing to not be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ united with other followers of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, to opt out of the sacrament is to opt out of unity with God, is to refuse to receive divine grace or the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the way in which God chooses to give himself to us. Is our 14-year-old aware of this?

When adults enter the Church through the RCIA program, they receive Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation in one ceremony in one evening. The sacraments are not conferred piecemeal over the span of 13 years for them as it now is for children. Centuries ago, owing to the logistical difficulties present within a growing Church (in the Latin rite, at least) Eucharist and Confirmation ceased to be conferred at infancy because the bishop could not attend every baptism. (See Paragraph 1290 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.) It is the bishop who confers the sacraments of initiation; the priest and deacons do so by delegation.

Married Catholics are obliged to baptize and educate their children in the Catholic faith. By doing this they create a Catholic family—the first cell of society, the first school, the domestic church—united in Christ, united with the Church. In fulfilling their duties—and their desire—they arrange for their children to receive the rite of Christian Initiation—Baptism, Communion, Confirmation—and Reconciliation. They take their child or children to Mass every Sunday, at least, and on Holy Days of Obligation, on weekdays and to Eucharistic adoration, if they are so devoted. They pray the family rosary and other prayers. They take part in parish ministries and/or join lay apostolates. They send their children to Catholic schools, if they can afford to. And in many other ways, Catholic families nourish themselves by building a Catholic culture at home, at work, and in their neighborhoods.

We live in a post-Christian, neo-pagan time, in which the Church is being persecuted severely throughout the world by militant forces of various religious, political, and atheistic ideologies. So, when Catholic parents who are strong in the practice of their faith hear from a child that he or she wants to leave the Church, their pain is devastating. They may wonder, how did they fail in their duties? How did they fail their child? As was St. Monica, they may be parents who are not “fine with” their child leaving the Church and endangering his salvation. And, definitely, they are not “fine with” preparation for Confirmation being a time to decide whether or not to remain Christian. Such a belief (“I can opt out now.”), present in our parishes, serves only to diminish the numbers of the faithful and tear apart families.

© by Daniel J. Johnson. All rights reserved.

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3 thoughts on “Confirmation: Stay Catholic or Not?

  1. I was confirmed at 14 with the rest of my eighth grade class. This was in 1990, to put a generational date on things.

    I was told that this is when I became an adult in the Church. I was told that when I was an infant my parents made baptismal promises on my behalf. and this was the time when I made those promises for myself.

    I wasn’t ready to do this. I knew I wasn’t ready to do this. But I also knew that I wasn’t strong enough to endure the familial tumult that would ensue if I said “thanks but no thanks.” (The parents, not being totally out-of-the-loop, were relieved I was not raising a fuss.)

    So I went through the motions. I said what I was expected to say.

    There is an element of the Confirmation Mass when the local pastor affirms to the bishop that. I thought that I was making my pastor (whom I loved) lie for me.

    I went home and after the party with my family I cried a whole lot that night.

    This, I am quite confident, stinks. By any reasonable understanding of catechesis, this stinks. With some more adult perspective, if anything I was probably closer to being ready than many of my peers, because I was ready enough to know that I wasn’t ready.

    It took me YEARS to realize that probably not all of the other eighth graders were at the point of making mature adult decisions to commit themselves to the Church. It took me more years to realize that the adults involved (many of whom I loved!) knew this, and that’s okay.

    More than 20 years later, I still haven’t quite figured out why that was okay.

    A few years later, I would have been in a position to be confirmed and it wouldn’t have been just going through the motions because that was what was expected. It would have been so much better if it had happened then, and I really wish that some of the Grown Ups had told me that was an option.

    • Thank you for replying, Kristen. I think that experience is common for many of us. I was prepared for confirmation by a Precious Blood sister who was both an excellent Catholic and an excellent teacher. I am still grateful to her for the training she gave me. Actually, there is no formal opting out of Confirmation or the faith, that I know of; I also don’t see it in the Catechism, which explains the sacrament much better than I do here. My own experience has been that my faith has deepened since I was confirmed; also, I have read and do read the Catechism as an adult and that has helped me to understand the faith even better.

  2. I am quite appalled to hear this kind of comment from parishioners, too. I am told that the teens are proud to choose being a Catholic and now the faith is their own. The faith was their own from the day of their baptism. Confirmation is the completion of this faith they with their parents chose. I was confirmed two weeks after my first holy communion. we did not have much of fanfare as it is now. We were prepared, of course; we knew we were receiving Confirmation. We were going to be soldiers for Christ. The way the Church is treated now, we do need more soldiers for Christ, and i will be delighted to have Confirmation moved up closer to first holy Communion.

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