Tag Archives: Confirmation

‘One Message’ Formation

Courtesy of Youth 2000

Courtesy of Youth 2000

Tomorrow I am going to a parish to lead a formation session with some Confirmation catechists. I think few of them have been catechists before, and probably even fewer (if any) have any kind of formation at all.

So, given our time together will be short, I figured I need to get into a nutshell the basic message about what catechesis is and who we as catechists are.

I am going to use this Scripture passage (this is my ‘go-to’ passage when I have to explain simply and easily what catechesis is about):

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

Catechesis is above all about being a witness to Christ.

If you had to transmit one message to catechists – what would it be and why?

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“Sacramentalisation”

This time of year, filled with First Holy Communions and Confirmations, is full of joy. It is also a time where we risk “sacramentalising” another batch of young people or adults, perhaps without really evangelising or catechising them.

This is precisely the problem that we face in the New Evangelisation – and one which we, to some extent, inflict on ourselves.

It is a theme which occurs again and again on this blog. I am not being overdramatic when I say it breaks my heart to see us shortchanging people by bringing them to the sacraments too soon. Graces are heaped upon them, yet they don’t have the means or the maturity or the understanding to open their hearts to these graces, because they have not been through a sufficient period of formation.

This video clip from Dr Scott Hahn isn’t new, but it is worth taking just over ten minutes out of your day to watch. He speaks about the relationship between evangelising, catechising, and sacramentalising, in depth. I showed it to a group of seminarians, one of whom said it was the most inspirational thing he’d seen all year (maybe an exaggeration…) – but it is truly a good clip from Dr Hahn and a topic all of us in the Church need to wake up to, and think hard about theologically, pastorally, spiritually.


The Month of May

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In the parish year, May and September vie with each other for top place in the list of busiest months. Whereas September is full of parents’ meetings, catechist training, and heaps of enrolment forms, May is full of church seating plans, rehearsals, and threats to teenage girls involving oversize cardigans if they rock up at church not dressed appropriately. Both months have their own stressful charms. In the last couple of weekends, our First Communion and Confirmation Masses have gone almost flawlessly: the pashminas stuffed in my bag in case of under-dressed teenagers have gone unused and First Communion children almost mastered the arts of genuflecting without toppling over and processing in a straight line. This weekend we celebrated a wonderful barbecue with our newly-confirmed teenagers in which they signed each other’s Transitions books (these are excellent end of Confirmation gifts – you can get them here!). Next weekend, we celebrate another adult Baptism, and our Pentecost Vigil – which is both a celebration of our parish’s patronal feast, and the end of our catechetical year.


This Week’s Top Five… Catechetical Highlights

1. Giving catechesis on the Our Father to the catechumens. In the Fifth Week of Lent, they are presented with the Lord’s Prayer as a ‘foretaste’ and reminder of the Father who will be theirs after their Baptism. What I love about our catechumens is – they really know they will become children of God the Father 🙂

2. A great Confirmation catch-up class: two brilliant, bright girls with some fantastic questions about Genesis, the historicity of the Gospels, the meaning of evil… More teenagers like this please!

3. A brilliant Catholicism session on prayer: small groups shared about their own experience of prayer, and we talked about the ‘fasting of the senses’ as a means to deepen our prayer.

4. Showing the first half of the Human Experience to our Confirmation class – a powerful film to get them thinking about the dignity of the human person and the real meaning of happiness.

5. Adoration with our First Communion children. Every term they have half-an-hour of led prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.


Discipline in catechesis

Throughout the year, and depending on the children you catechise, this can very quickly become a talking point. One year, a particularly difficult Confirmation group meant that Tuesday afternoons were generally filled with anticipatory dread as we faced the class in the evening. Now we can look back on our experience and laugh, but at the time, we didn’t particularly enjoy Tuesday evenings.

The Church recognises that there is a deeply rooted link between discipline and catechesis, since the word ‘discipline’ comes from the same root as ‘disciple’, and what are we doing in catechesis if not training disciples? The section in the GDC on the Pedagogy of God acknowledges this immediately: “God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom a father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:7) is the opening quotation.

But, we soon find that, like the question of children in church, this can be a charged topic. Parenting is unique in every family, and for a variety of different reasons, adults have different standards about what behaviour is or is not acceptable.

I remember, as a nineteen or twenty-year-old, going back to my home parish to help out with a Confirmation class. For the entire evening, the fifty or sixty participants spoke between themselves, were evidently not listening to the catechists, did not engage with their group leaders, and, as far as I was concerned at the time, may as well not have been there. I wondered how the catechists could simply keep going without addressing this evident problem.

There is a balance that we need to create, and that needs to be in place right from the start. On the one hand, catechesis is not school, and it would be wrong to create the same kind of highly-disciplined school environment that young people have just spent all day in. We need to get the message across that catechesis is something different, a place set apart in which they have come to hear the Word of God. The relationships young people have with their catechists, therefore, will be different from ones they have with their teachers. We begin our Confirmation year of catechesis with a retreat in which to create this community which should draw each young person into a closer relationship with God – where they are loved as well as challenged, where they’re accepted as they are, but also called on to holiness.

Catechesis should awaken in children a desire for God

The other side of this delicate balance means that discipline is completely necessary. In the Confirmation session I attended as a late teen, the young people were not being disciplined and so therefore did not experience the secure environment that both accepts them and expects great things of them. This is a challenging environment to get right, especially if you or your catechists do not have teaching experience, or a great deal of experience with young people.

I would encourage every catechist to persevere in this and do not settle for second best. Insist on maintaining the good procedures and habits that you set out with. Always carry through the consequences if your young people get slack at sticking to the rules. Never tire of praising good behaviour and manners. Always show that this comes from your love and care for them. Pray, pray, and pray to St John Bosco!

We forget what it is like being a child or young person. This struck me when this year we had a group of older teenagers helping for the first time with our Confirmation class. I saw very quickly that their perceptions of the dynamics and behaviour within the group were far more perceptible and accurate than my own. They understood much more quickly what was ‘going on’. I began to see that their insights and help were invaluable, and I now regularly ask their feedback on how the sessions are going. ‘Inside’ understanding from young people themselves, I have found, is indispensable.

Catechesis needs to create the conditions for children to understandAnd, as we all know, young people are happier with clear boundaries that are insisted upon. A First Communion class which had got out of control recently needed some help. I had no idea it had got so bad when I walked in and discovered children getting up whenever they felt like it and running around the room. After a couple of sessions, we were back on track, and one of the girls, as she worked on an activity, commented, “I really love it when it’s quiet!” She had discovered the real purpose of their catechesis.

So, discipline is not an end in itself. But it’s a necessary condition for catechesis to be effective. We have perhaps lost sight of this in a society which treats little children like “gods” and where parents experience guilt for not giving them what they want. But we discover, with some common sense and perseverance, that children are happier and freer when their catechesis is not centred upon themselves, but upon God.


Catechesis on Creation

Sometimes it’s good to have a store of video clips for catechesis. For today’s generation (even catechesis for adults) nothing beats good audio-visual aids to capture attention and imagination…as long as it’s done well. But I really believe nothing substitutes for the witness of the person of the catechist.

This is a beautiful clip which could be used for Confirmation catechesis on Creation, how the universe points to the existence of a Creator. This was filmed over a week on the top of the highest mountain in Spain and has a great soundtrack too.