“Then [Peter and John] laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:17)
Yesterday I accompanied our youth group to the Marlins game and since baseball offers the spectator moments of silence and contemplation, I started thinking about how each of them got there. How did each of them end up as committed Catholics and part of our youth group? The majority of them came through our Confirmation program. They are wonderful kids, respectful, insightful, caring, and always at the service of the Church. Unfortunately, they are a small portion of the young people who have been confirmed in our parish over the last five years. The first reading today offers us the scriptural basis for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Peter and John came to Samaria to lay hands on those that had been baptized so that they may receive the Holy Spirit. Some of my biggest joys, and sorrows I must confess, have come in preparing our young people for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I have witnessed young people make bold transformations as they prepare for this sacrament, and then upon receiving it, they dedicate their time to the church and become active in parish ministries like our youth group kids. Unfortunately, the opposite is more common. Too often I have seen young people go through the motions of receiving this sacrament as if it were a graduation from CCD and pretty much don’t set foot in church after that. It is sad, tragic, and it is our fault. The Church has failed them.
Today’s readings talks to us about the importance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus emphasized that he would not leave us orphans for he will send us an Advocate who will always be with us. Why is it so difficult to communicate this to our young people? They are brought by their parents to complete the Sacraments of Initiation, but we, and I include myself in this, are not doing an adequate job of forming disciples. The past two years that I have presented our young people to the bishop for Confirmation, I have done so imploring God to have mercy on me for presenting some candidates that weren’t fully prepared for the sacrament. There have been some who have been wonderful students and very open to the preparation process, but others who treated their weekly CCD class as if they were in math class at 8 in the morning in school. I only presented them trusting in the grace of the sacrament and that the Holy Spirit may move them even a little. These children essentially spend two years jumping through hoops so that they can receive a sacrament. This is not how we mold disciples. This is something that causes me great distress because I have witnessed hundreds of Confirmation ceremonies and am often left wondering that if we had prepared all those young people adequately and with conviction, we would have a young spiritual army for Christ that would transform the world. Instead, the world transforms them, and the Good Shepherd is left without sheep. Quite simply, what we are doing now to prepare candidates for Confirmation is not working and needs to be blown up, thrown out, and let's start from scratch. It ain't working! (This is not a manifesto. This is something that I discussed at great length with the bishop that came to do our Confirmations three weeks ago. I may write about this more extensively in the future, but not now.)
Those of us gathered here that have been confirmed have received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We must be reminded that the Spirit is always with us, for Christ tells us so in today’s gospel. Confirmation is a challenge to go forth and be apostles of the joy of the resurrection. It is a challenge to go and transform the world. This is the challenge that we must be communicating to our young people. This week the Holy Father posed a rhetorical question during one of his homilies: “How many of you pray to the Holy Spirit? Don’t raise your hand…He is the great forgotten, the great forgotten!...May the Lord give us this grace to always guard the Holy Spirit in us, the Spirit who teaches us to love, fills us with joy, and gives us peace (Homily on May 23, 2014).” We forget that we have been given this great gift of the Spirit and that all gifts are meant to be shared. Our Confirmation programs are in crisis. If those children merely go through the motions and "do what is required" then we are failing them. Fulfilling pre-requisites is what you do when you are seeking a diploma or degree, NOT when you are preparing to receive a sacrament. We must re-think how we form our young people because the Church should not confer sacraments based on fulfilling pre-requisistes, it should confer sacrament on those who are ready to be disciples. I was not ordained a priest simply because I went through 9 years of classes. I was ordained a priest because the Church and those entrusted with my formation discerned that I was ready to receive Holy Orders. I wonder if this same logic should be applied as we prepare young people for Confirmation. So I implore you this day to pray for our young people who received the Sacrament of Confirmation this year and in recent years that they may recognize this gift. Also pray for your pastor and for all lay ministers and catechists who heroically prepare these children, that we may have the courage to start from scratch guided by the Spirit, stop teaching mere classes and start molding disciples for Jesus Christ.