Yesterday late afternoon I was on a bus from Chelsea heading back down south over the river. It was the time of day when kids were on their way home from school and I noticed with amusement how I was seated in the front, politely silent, half of the upper deck, while the back half squawked with ear-piercing noise. Yes – wherever you go, whatever kind of teenagers they are, young people are loud.
How very old I feel saying this. But it is true. This week in our Confirmation session we had a pause from the normal catechesis. Each week the candidates have quite an intense hour-and-a-half of catechesis, so this week we felt it would be good for them to stop and reflect on how far they’ve come, what they understand better now, how they are stronger in their faith. They were great at being open about their experience so far (no mean feat for British teenagers), they shared and listened to each other courteously. Then the moment it was time for a break, the mad scramble for drinks and snacks revealed a completely different streak in them: it’s true – there’s nothing you can change about them – teenagers are teenagers.
Catechesis with young people is the hardest that there is, and yet I’ve realised parenting is much, much harder. ‘You must be relieved it’s all over,’ one parent commented to me after the Confirmation Mass last year. ‘For you it’s over,’ she added jokingly, ‘but we’re stuck with them!’ As catechists we may feel hopeless at times in the face of the enormous task of preparing teenagers for Confirmation. If we’re honest, how many of our young people are truly well-disposed to receive the sacrament? It is a problem I struggle with and can’t say I know the answer. All I know is, we must do our absolute best to win their hearts. And what I also know is that, however big the challenge feels for us, it is far greater for the faithful Catholic parent of a teen who wants to stop practising. We have a boy in our group this year who has agreed to come to classes but doesn’t want to be confirmed. I admire his honesty but am praying very much that we will win him over somehow during the course of the year. Most of all though, I admire his Dad’s perseverance and prayer, and know that really I can’t imagine what that struggle must feel like to a parent. Young people and their parents need our prayers!