The Sacrament of Confirmation can be a very challenging and very rewarding sacrament. In my experience as a pastor, the most rewarding aspect of the sacrament comes through the RCIA process (Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults).
There can be any number of different scenarios as to why someone is getting confirmed through RCIA, but pretty much every time it is just a great event. Those who go through this process have usually done it with much discernment, prayer, and commitment, and I love walking through this life-changing event with the people who are called to it.
|Father Richard Kunst
And then there is the challenging form of confirmation which reminds me of an old joke. A rabbi told a priest friend about all the bats they were getting in the synagogue. At a loss as to how to get rid of them, the priest said, “When we have bat problems in the church I simply confirm them, and I never see them again.”
Over my years of being a pastor, I have witnessed the strong faith of many young adults as they have approached their confirmation. At times it has been inspiring. Sadly, though, that is the exception. Unfortunately, the majority of kids (though far from all) look at their confirmation either with a lukewarm faith or with a practically non-existent faith. And yes, all too often, once they have been confirmed I rarely see many of them again.
What makes this particularly sad is that it flies in the face of why we confirm in the first place. There is an objective grace that comes from any sacrament, so even if the young person could not care less, there is still a value to their being confirmed. But as St. Augustine once said, “The God who created us without our cooperation does not intend to save us without our cooperation.” And although there is an objective grace, there is also a responsibility.
When we get confirmed, we are “confirming” the faith and promises our parents made on our behalf at our baptism. When we got baptized, most of us were too young to speak on our own behalf, so our parents and godparents did it for us. Two times in the context of the baptism ritual parents promise to raise their children in the practice of the faith. Sometimes, unfortunately, people put themselves under a false oath with this, because some promise to bring their children up in the practice of the faith with no intention of doing so. This hurts the children in an immeasurable way.
When young adults get confirmed, they are confirming that responsibility for themselves. What their parents promised on their behalf, they are now saying they will do, which is why the vanishing act of newly confirmed Catholic kids is tragic.
For faithful Catholic parents, the faith life of their growing children is very important, but sometimes their desires are misplaced. It is not uncommon for me to speak with confirmation students who tell me they are doing this because their parents tell them they have to.
That is wrong. Parents should never, ever force their children to be confirmed. Confirmation students need to decide for themselves if they want to get confirmed or not. They are taking on the responsibility their parents had at their baptism. They should not be forced to do that.
Canon law addresses this very matter in Canon 889: “Apart from the danger of death, to receive confirmation lawfully a person who has the use of reason must be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.” If a child is unwilling to receive confirmation they are certainly not properly disposed and should not be confirmed.
The hope is that parents, pastors, and religious educators help children understand the importance of their faith so that they continue to practice it after they have been confirmed. This can be done in any number of ways. And we have hope and confidence that the graces received through the sacrament will bear much fruit.
But it should never be forced, nor can it be.
Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.