Another sacrament for today’s youth?

By  Manfred Von Vulte, Catholic Register Special
  • June 17, 2007
Having taken the current set of Grade 8 students from my parish through Confirmation some insights on the process came to light. I suppose this could be considered a good news/bad news account.
Encouraging is that today’s youth are decent people; they have a social conscience and a deep spirit of giving. Their characters reflect an emergence of a society that is less judgmental, sensitive to the needs of others and interested in the dignity of the human spirit. Many older adults will find that refreshing, if not surprising. The environment, resolving issues of violence, poverty, disease, captivates youth and are issues in the forefront of their thinking. The sheer honesty of teens and, to borrow a line from J.D. Salinger, their ability to “spot a phony,” serve them well. 

However, what this beautiful foundation often lacks is the understanding and internalization of the faith. Students often accept without question the teachings of the church or far worse, surmise the Mass on a one-dimensional level, not fully comprehending all of its participatory and historic significance. Of course, Grade 8 students cannot be expected to be at a state of reasoning that would facilitate this view. However, the mission of Confirmation is cast forth on a sea of doubts, challenges and hard lessons found in adolescence and early adulthood. Persons who are unengaged in the message and life of a Catholic often sadly drift away from the church and use it only in times of great joy or sadness.

What could we all have done better? Religion in the home once meant family prayer, discussions and reading of the Bible. What has happened here? Do we all own a Bible? Better yet, do we have or make the time to engage in these activities? Is it not funny that when the power goes out, people seem to rediscover each other, reading and their faith?

In the past, the home kindled the fires of the Holy Spirit and motivated people to carry forth the positive message of their families. It seems that when society sped up the inverse occurred with vocations. Our education system has sadly let us down. When asked which prayers youth know, they respond with the big three; “Our Father,” “Hail Mary” and grace.

While this evangelization process has its merits, it produces an odd product: a Catholic who may be so in name only, one who “goes through the motions” of the Mass without comprehension and whose spirit of generosity and humane nature can be co-opted into any cause or faith.

This is not how we sustain and build the church. In his recent trip to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI stated in response to the evangelical threat, “We have to be more dynamic.”  Are we making our young people aware of youth movements, groups and opportunities to exercise and advance their Catholicity?

The example of John the Baptist, the apostles and disciples seems to further the argument that perhaps Confirmation should be celebrated a few years later or better still, an eighth sacrament be instituted in a person’s late teens or mid-20s.

The concept of adolescence is a fairly recent event in human history. Life expectancy rates are higher than ever, and the average age of matrimony and Holy Orders has also increased. Tremendous programs like the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, service groups and spiritual constructs do exist in our parishes, but they are often under promoted and not fully understood.  The challenge of modernity, secularism and other worldly “truths” cloud and confuse the young Catholic. There is a lack of a formal and thorough understanding of the magisterium and dogma of the church. The uninformed can be swayed and challenged in all sorts of directions, which almost always reflect elements of “truth” and tap into the foundation of character that exists within the young person.

An excerpt from a fantastic prayer by Joyce Rupp for Pentecost goes as follows: “May the enthusiasm of the Spirit leap incessantly within and help you to live a vibrant life.”  This enthusiasm needs to be supported and reinforced by a faith-based family, an enlightened education and a dynamic church. Perhaps a new sacrament of affirmation is not needed, but might it bolster youth and young adults in the Catholic Church?

(Von Vulte is a writer in the Toronto area.)

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