Sunday, April 29, 2012

Confirmation Retreats

Confirmation retreats. They are an interesting phenomenon, perhaps the one venue where all of the issues that have arisen within the Church over the last generation come together. When I was a DRE, myself and two other DREs put a lot of effort into putting together a proposed revamping of the entire diocesan approach to Confirmation. We put a lot of research into it and were going to propose it to the bishop in a formal meeting; my part of the project was to research the history of Confirmation in the Church in order to develop historical and theological arguments for administering it earlier. For various reasons this project was never completed and the issue faded from my mind.

This weekend I attended a Confirmation retreat for a boy I am sponsoring, and all these questions about how Confirmation can be better administered and prepared for came rushing back to my mind. But there is no room here for a full-blown review of the problems with Confirmation prep as a whole and what would be needed to rectify (though I am working on a such a proposal for the new website). It will be sufficient here to give an example of the kind of thing we are dealing with by describing my experience this weekend.

Allow to begin with a disclaimer - the boy I am sponsoring is a very intelligent and well-formed homeschooler, probably one of the best formed and most knowledgeable kids in the entire program. I am proud of him and happy to be his sponsor, so my post here on Confirmation retreats has nothing to do with him or his personal preparedness. Rather, I guess it is a lament that such a well-formed kid had to endure the sort of program I am about to describe (which, by the way, was not at my parish but at another one in the same diocese).

Our retreat was billed as a Confirmation Sponsor Retreat. It was supposed to be a time when sponsors shared a day with their confirmands and shared their faith with them apparently. The retreat was scheduled to take eight hours, from 12-8pm. For almost the entirety of this time, we were confined to the parish center and had very little opportunity to move around, except for some small breaks every two hours. We began the day with an "ice breaker" to "warm up"; we were each given a Gift of the Spirit and had to come up with as many words as we could out of that word (so, I had "Knowledge" and I had to see how many ways I could rearrange the letters to form other words - I came up with 66 other words). It had nothing to do with Confirmation but, whatever, it was just an ice breaker.

Then we came to the introduction and the first talk, which was all about Hands. We were given a set of directions and asked to do things with our hands and evaluate how they "felt." For example: "High five your partner. Shake your partner's hand. Put your arm on your partners shoulder." After each direction, we were asked to write down how it "felt" to do this action (for the hand shake, I wrote "moist"). Everybody at each table was asked to share their answers, which they did reluctantly because the whole thing was so weird. Then there was a very weak talk on the importance of "hands" in the Confirmation rite (nobody, neither any students nor the facilitators, mentioned that laying on of hands sacramentally imparted the Holy Spirit. I had to volunteer that information).

Then we had a session entitled "Called." We were given a sheet of paper and asked to come up with a list of all the titles we go by - Father, Son, Brother, etc. At any rate, after this exercise, we had a talk by a deacon aspirant on the importance of Confirmation saint names. He went around the room asking what people's saint names were, and while some were decent, a lot of the explanations were awful - "I chose Joan because it is my grandma's name." "I picked Michael because I always wished that was my name." "I wanted Christopher because my parents said that was another name they almost called me and I have always liked that name." Having done Confirmation prep myself for several years, I can say that such rationales for choosing a saint name are woefully common.

Then (still sitting at the same tables in the parish center and now several hours into this) we had a session called Sealed, in which we were to look at several objects in a bag and brainstorm on how they related to sealing. We had class rings and a roll of electrical tape. Basically the same thing as talk one - asking all the kids to share their answers followed by a very theologically weak talk on what it means to be sealed with the Spirit. Then we did another activity with the gifts of the spirit, in which kids were all asked to describe how other objects (scales, road signs, books, etc) related to a certain gift. By the way, "Fear of the Lord" was changed to be "Wonder and Awe of the Lord." There was also some comments about how "before Vatican II" Catholics talked too much about sin and judgment and now it is different.

Meanwhile the kids were getting called back for Confirmation interviews by the priest. Each interview took about one minute. He asked them two questions - "What do you get out of being Catholic?" and "Imagine you are in college and it is Sunday and all the other students are sleeping in; why should you get up and go to Mass?" Good questions, I suppose, but hardly sufficient to determine the worthiness of a candidate for Confirmation. A better question would have been something like, oh, I don't know, "Explain the sacrament of Confirmation" or "Who is the Holy Spirit", or, as my pastor always asks ever since a kid got this one wrong, "Is the holy Spirit God?" Such wimpy questions as "what do you get out of being Catholic" do not in any way help determine that a person understands the sacrament or has been properly formed. They are practically meaningless. But, as one guy at my table said with a laugh as the students all returned from their interviews, "Father likes to get everybody through quickly." By the way, the priest was not wearing clerical garb, just a flannel shirt and blue jeans.

Then we went over to the Church for Confessions, which was a welcome change of scenery. The priest stood out in the vestibule, however, and the talking was so loud that I had to go outside the Church because I could hear the kids making their confessions and hear what he was saying back to them. Then we had to do some mandatory "Faith Sharing." I had to go sit somewhere privately with my confirmand and talk to him about my own Confirmation and things I had learned since then, which wasn't exactly a bad thing, although it was a little awkward because it was forced (Go spend five minutes and talk about your faith - very unorganic and unlike how faith-sharing happens in the real world).

Then we had Mass and then a dinner, but my kid and I cut out early; we had been there all day and it was evening, so we were ready to go.

There is so much that can be said here, but I don't have it in me. The retreat wasn't bad, just lame. Extremely lame. Limp. Weak. Lifeless. Certainly not anything that would excite a young person, and that is an huge problem in the Church as a whole - a pervasive spirit of lameness that makes the Faith into something just kind of ho-hum. Sometimes, I see things going on, and all I can do is pray to God and wonder, "How will we ever make it?" All I can say is that if we want our kids to take our Faith seriously, we need to treat it like it is something serious. When we are telling them to high-five each other and talk about what it feels like, many start to wonder, "Why am I here?" Is this the truth that God became man to impart to us? I wondered how many of these kids would still be practicing their faith in two years. How many would endure and run the race to the end? We are not preparing our kids well, intellectually or spiritually, and it grieves my heart,


Anonymous said...

Are we talking about only English here?

knowledge, know, ledge, no, now, ow, led, ed, we, lee, gee, den, dow, down, on, eon

.... oh I'm sorry was this post about something more serious? Yes, I'll read that now...

Great post. Very humorous despite the tragic subject. The worst part about this stuff is that the kids hate it more than anyone. They're hungering for something hard and firm in their lives, and all adults want to feed them is sugary cotton. It makes them extremely frustrated. I know. Thankfully, the stubborn search for that hard Truth eventually led me to it (who could have guessed?).

... ned, knee, eel, woe, log, lodge...

Boniface said...

Yes, that is the worst part - the kids all sitting there with lost looks on their faces, each wondering, "Why am I here?", and I don't mean in the philosophical sense!

Anonymous said...

Your post really made me feel sad for the young people who so yearn for God in their lives and want to be embraced by Holy Mother Church. The priest of that church is doing everyone a grave disservice by not embracing his vocation and leading the flock that has been entrusted to him closer to God. So, so sad.