Q: Archbishop J, what do you hope for in Confirmation?
‘Confirmation’ is a character sacrament. It is unrepeatable. It leaves an indelible mark on our soul. It gives the disciple the grace of the Holy Spirit: the power of God to transform, to empower and to sanctify. This grace is absolutely necessary for a disciple to live for Christ and become the best version of himself or herself.
With secularism, we have slipped into the ancient heresy of Pelagianism, which proposes that God has given all we need already; it is up to us now to get on with the business of human living.
Because of this heresy, modern parents have undervalued the challenge of the virtuous life, or its supreme value. Many believe they are basically good people, only needing a small nudge to be saved. This is a lie!
Primacy of Grace
St Paul, writing to the Ephesians says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9).
This is at the core of the spiritual journey. We cannot save ourselves! Salvation is a free gift from Christ through grace. Each of us must come to recognise our need for this grace and open our hearts to accept it.
The first hope for Confirmation is that each candidate would have a desire for God and the grace that God bestows. Until the candidate sees the need for God, everything else we do in our catechetical programmes is irrelevant.
By grace we come to see God as supremely important for our life. This means we must lead the candidate to see it is far more reasonable to believe in God than to believe in chance. Furthermore, we need candidates to leap across the chasm through faith to believe all the Bible and our tradition reveals about God.
A teen must have a reasonable answer to the questions of faith: What is the relationship between faith and science? How does God deal with those who are not Catholic? What is Mary’s role? Is the Eucharist really the body of Christ? Why does the Church teach what she does about sex, etc?
We need to ensure too we answer their real questions. Here we lay the foundation for the virtuous life and the steps necessary to achieve it.
To have faith in God, as revealed through scripture, leads to building a vital relationship with Him. This is what we call prayer. My second hope is that each candidate will have a rhythm of prayer and a routine within the rhythm. By the end of the formation, the candidate should have a rhythm of prayer on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
I cannot stress the importance of prayer enough in the life of the disciple. When candidates encounter God through their prayer, everything changes; they are then in touch with God who is leading their souls to depth and grace. This leading may be imperceptible most of the time. But a rhythm of prayer allows God to do with us, as He wants.
For candidates, I propose five prayer forms as daily practice: (1) The rosary (2) Christian Meditation (3) Scripture (4) The Examen and (5) Lectio Divina. Each of these invites the soul to surrender to Christ, who is always our highest good. It is only through prayer and its rhythm that a soul becomes immersed in the relationship with God and so docile, and available to God and others. I also highly recommend daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
During preparation for Confirmation, my sister and I rode to Mass most mornings and then went to school. This rhythm did something in me that I cannot explain.
As a teen in Fatima College, Mass most mornings became my rhythm.
Looking back now I can see it was grace given and received. At the very least, a candidate should be going to Mass each Sunday.
Each candidate needs a rhythm of grace, acquired through an active prayer life that becomes a habit—like the other habits of brushing one’s teeth, bathing, eating, studying, etc.
Through the rhythm of prayer, the candidate is led to consider his or her vocation—God’s call and the skills to discern it and live it with generosity, in the world of 2049.
My third hope is that each teen will encounter the living God at some point in the Confirmation programme. The German theologian Karl Rahner once said: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or not at all.” This is not esoteric religion but the Christian conviction that all our ordinary activities are open to divine encounter.
To assume the faith, and make it his or her own, a person needs to encounter Christ. This we must facilitate through prayer experiences, retreats, days of reflection and the rhythm of the programme. Added to this, the candidate should have an informed understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple.
For my part, I would also make Alpha for Teens, Theology of the Body, and the Life in the Spirit Seminar integral to the Confirmation programme. One of the first semesters should be on prayer and enabling the relationship with Christ. Our young people generally gravitate to Christian Meditation.
My fourth hope for Confirmation is that our candidates would touch the poor in a significant way during the preparation through the feeding programme, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Migrant Ministry and wherever the parish makes this possible.
They should also be invited to participate in a parish ministry on an ongoing basis. By immersion into the life of the parish, by touching the poor, they touch Christ and come to a different level of formation.
My fifth hope is to engage parents, to assist them to become the best teachers of the faith. They should be engaged in the formation process to teach, to witness and in service.
We could put content into their hands to teach their child, who can then send the catechist a reflection on what was learnt. Confirmation should leave the family and the student stronger in faith, and on a path to authentic development.
The aspiration: To form missionary disciples through initiation into the sacred mystery that is God, leading to full conscious and active participation in liturgy, mission, and life, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Consider how you could help the Confirmation programme in your parish achieve these five hopes.