Tag Archives: Confirmation programme

How long?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

Here I am, still marvelling every day at where I’ve landed, right on the south coast. A lot of adjustment is going on: from the city to the seaside; from a fast-paced lifestyle to a slower one; from hundreds of young adults in church to… (let’s be honest) very few. I’m getting my head around a few things. My current experience is probably closer to every normal Catholic’s experience, but it is quite different from where I’ve come from.

So, blog readers, this is where you come in 🙂 Adjusting from a pretty rosy catechetical scene, I now find myself asking – how do we get there? How does this happen? What is the Lord calling us to do?

Here’s my first little topic for us to mull over…

I’m coming from a parish where every sacramental programme was no less than a year long. It was the system in place when I arrived four years ago, and I had never experienced anything like it, least of all in my own sacramental preparation as a child and teenager. But over time, I began to see the huge benefit of it. Gradually I became a big advocate of long programmes. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Catechesis should be ongoing, anyway – for every single one of us (see GDC 84) – so if we can’t have permanent catechesis for all children, then their sacramental preparation needs to at least be long enough to cover the Deposit of Faith
  • Every baptised person has a right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith and you cannot do that in six sessions
  • Sacramental preparation should prepare each person’s heart to receive the sacrament fruitfully – which only happens if they have the right disposition. Creating the conditions for this disposition to be formed is a work of delicacy, prayer, and much effort, and, as with everything involving the Holy Spirit, takes time – why rush the conversion process?
  • There is a great advantage to regularity in formation – if we go to something each week, it is far more likely to become a good habit – there is more chance this will continue after the sacraments have been received
  • Regular nourishment is how God wants to form us! Not a great big feast and then starvation mode for several years. He wants to feed us with his Scriptures and teaching regularly, frequently

I admit – it is hard enough maintaining a long programme already in place. Parents see the parish next door confirming any teenager who moves, and they are resentful at what they see as the “demands” placed on them.

Every year we faced grumbles like this. During one parent’s meeting, however, one parent (previously dubious) stood up to defend the length of the programme, saying that the community and friendship which was forged as a result was remarkable and now sustained her daughter’s faith life.

In my experience, it is worth holding firm and sticking to your guns, and allowing the few who will drop off and head to the next door parish to do just that.

But, if you are starting this up somewhere, I imagine it is a whole different story. How do you suggest the new approach to parents? How do you convince young people this will be worth it? Please share your ideas!

Evangelisation of the Young

September whizzes on, without letting up on the busy-ness, which is why it’s been pretty quiet on the blog-front. This last weekend, I was totally preoccupied with the evangelisation of young people (both doing and thinking about!). I think I can safely say, it was one of the most intense weekends of my catechetical life.

You know when something is so crazy, it takes days after to process it all? Well, my mind has been reeling a little. Without going into all the ins and outs, this was definitely a packed, emotional rollercoaster of a weekend: small dramas, new friendships, old feuds, tears, conversions, tantrums, reconciliations, singing (who knew the easiest thing about the weekend would be getting teenagers to sing?!), joy, tiredness… with some marshmallows, a campfire, football, journal-writing and Ninja thrown in. In one word: Intense. “And that was just the boys,” my friend joked yesterday. Almost, people. Almost.

What did they say they loved about the weekend? “Singing great songs and really meaning it;” “Getting to share in our small groups;” “Everyone being together around the campfire;” “Having a big burden lifted off in Confession;” “Going to Confession and for the first time saying everything I’ve actually done;” “Feeling like I actually believe in God”…

Sounds great, right?! And yet, the reality is so TOUGH! To be an effective youth evangelist, I discovered, you also need to be a disciplinarian (well, with our teens, anyway), a parent, a counsellor… You constantly have to make quick decisions about how to respond to everything from giggling in the chapel to playing football in the house at 6am, from petty squabbles to full-blown teenage stroppiness. What do you let go? And what do you need to deal with? All of these are part and parcel of evangelisation, because all of it is about how we are handing on Christ to the young.

Over the last week, I’ve realised I have a long way to go in doing any of this well. Over the weekend, I felt I was leaning heavily on the Cross, praying from minute to minute, responding to drama after drama, giving Gospel-message talks, and knowing I could do none of it with my own strength.

But, on the last day, hearing the words above, hearing our kids sing their hearts out to praise songs they had never heard before (we have quite a traditional musical heritage in our parish) and hearing our kids willing to pray aloud together, I saw some fruits… Even if we have a very long way to go.

Sometimes you get an easy year with Confirmation… this one is definitely not one of those! Lord, give us your wisdom and strength.

New Beginnings

20120108-193153.jpgWe’re halfway through our Confirmation programme and Catechumenate, but even so, January is a great time for us all to come back to them fresh. For both, the next few months involve catechesis on sacramental life in Christ – that is, we’re trying to tie together the teaching on the liturgy and sacraments, and moral life in Christ, as much as possible. Why is this? Because we can only live a fully moral life through the grace we receive in the sacraments. The two are very interconnected. Next weekend, the Catechumenate embark on their retreat at Ampleforth Abbey to prepare them spiritually for the final stretch of catechesis before Lent. This is the time now when they will be challenged to live truly this life set before them – deeply in prayer, and authentically in moral life.

For the Confirmation candidates too, much of their moral formation we hope will be an inspiring and challenging experience for them. We use the film, The Human Experience, to root much of the moral teaching – we draw from it themes such as the dignity of the human person, what freedom is, the Beatitudes, the two greatest commandments, and the human and theological virtues. If you haven’t seen it, The Human Experience is a beautifully made, deeply inspiring film – I want to live so much better each time I watch it! We have found that rooting moral formation in some of the people and issues of the film makes it more alive and real. And following the classes, the candidates will hopefully visit the Friars of the Renewal and the Missionaries of Charity to witness the work they do with the poor. This is our plan, and I will let you know how it works with our candidates 🙂

The biggest new beginning we have this week is the first session of Catholicism, our new adult formation programme based on Fr Robert Barron’s DVD series. We’ve been so encouraged by the response to this programme – we have between 30-40 adults signed up, many young adults, from many different backgrounds and with lots of different reasons for taking part. The absolute deadline for bookings is Wednesday and at the moment, we have capacity for a few more… Come and join us! 🙂 I am really looking forward to a wonderful few weeks of deepening understanding of our faith, new friendships, and hopefully a renewed commitment to the Lord for many people. Please keep this project in your prayers!

Evangelisation in Confirmation preparation

I recently read a great article on the blog Catechesis in the Third Millennium about a session of evangelisation at the start of the Confirmation programme. It is interesting to see different ideas of incorporating this essential element into Confirmation preparation. Of course, catechesis is one of the “moments” of evangelisation, so in a sense it always needs to be evangelistic: attractive, engaging, concerned with converting hearts. This was our concern on our Confirmation retreat last weekend. I’ve said before that it is relatively easy when you have just twenty candidates like we do. Twenty is a great number 🙂 I have no idea how we would cope with 200!

CFR Friars - an important ingredient for youth evangelisation

We knew the candidates were not greatly looking forward to going away for a weekend early on in the school year. They all had mountains of homework, some had to miss school matches, they didn’t know what to expect. However, the transformation over the weekend was incredible. We had two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal with us for the weekend who proved ever so popular with the candidates, playing football and frizbee, and teaching them annoying games 😉 The first morning (after a first night of some games and a film) started by getting the candidates think honestly about where, on a scale of 1-10, they would say their relationship with God is, which provoked some interesting discussion. This was followed by teaching from the Friars on the love of God the Father, including the testimony of one of them. In response to this teaching, the candidates were invited to go off by themselves to write a personal letter to God the Father, speaking with Him openly. It was amazing to see their enthusiasm for this: they spread out outdoors and in the chapel and spent a good 30 minutes writing. The rest of the weekend included a similar teaching on God the Son, focussed on mercy and forgiveness, in preparation for the evening’s Reconciliation Service. We also had a YouCat workshop, introducing them to their YouCats, which they were presented with by the catechists at the end of Mass, and each small group produced a drama of the life of their Saint. All this was interspersed with football, frizbee and a walk to the site of the kidnap and martyrdom of St Alban (the first martyr of England!).

Perhaps what was best about the weekend – other than the candidates’ willingness to enter into prayer and go to Confession – was the sense of community between them. It was an interesting weekend to recognise the dynamics of the group, and was encouraging to see them include everyone in their activities and look out for each other. Similarly, it was a fantastic opportunity for us as catechists to build relationships with them and get to know them a bit on a human level before the catechesis begins.

So, hopefully, a good start. May the Holy Spirit build on this foundation in leading these young people deeper into Christ!