The Sacramental Shuffle
When you look at your calendar in the next few weeks, it is a good bet that there will be a first Holy Communion, Confirmation or wedding to attend. These sacraments are an integral part of every May. I was recently asked by my niece, Rose, to act as her sponsor for Confirmation. Being her Godfather, I was excited to assume this honor as well.
As the Religion Department Chairman at Kellenberg Memorial High School, I also oversee the religious instruction of our teachers in the Brother Joseph Fox Latin School. Each year, I send out dozens of letters from my office to local parishes alerting them to the requirements that our students have fulfilled here at school. Every student in grades 6 through 10, attend a retreat with their respective homeroom once a year. Our students also complete several projects in their preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation.
Recently a band of parents called my office insisting that I be more forceful with the parish and even with those in the diocesan offices. They wanted me to explain that since our students had already undergone sufficient training and participated in various service projects, the parish requirements would be excessive. I understood their reaction, but I urged the parents to participate in the parish activities as well. You can never have too much exposure to the spiritual dimension.
So the tug of war begins. It is natural that parishes want their members to come together for their own retreats, meetings, practices and service activities. They want people to come together as a community and experience the sacraments as the Body of Christ. But at the same time, we must compete with the demands of the frenzied teenage world. Those preparing for the sacraments begrudgingly sit before us as we attempt to prepare them for Communion, Confirmation and even Marriage. They constantly glance towards the clock wondering when their time of “penance” is over.
Each year, catechists in all aspects of Christian instruction are dealing with more and more “unChurched” Catholics. Regular attendance at Mass is far from a priority. Religious Ed, Pre Cana and even religion class in parochial school are perceived as unnecessary burdens. They try to avoid these at all costs.
The glory and pageantry of the sacraments draws the Catholic from his or her spiritual hibernation. People love the frills that accompany these events. Parents and grandparents reminisce about their own special day many years ago. Others spare no expense in celebrating these days.
When I accompanied Rose to the meeting for Confirmation, it was not unusual that people from various levels of faith development were in attendance. The sacraments offer the catechist a unique opportunity to hook the occasional Christian into regular Catholic practice. How do we use this time to bring people back to the Church on a regular basis?
It is a common practice to have students write reflections about the Gospel or homily and also have the church bulletin signed by a parish priest. We want to make sure that those preparing for the sacrament attend Mass. But do we want to employ as I call it “the tyranny of faith?” Children will never eat their vegetables on their own, but the creative parent makes the vegetables on the plate look and taste more appealing. The notion of going to Mass occurs long before dawn on Sunday morning. Be practical and down to earth every time you meet with the candidates for the sacrament. Meet them at their level. An unfocused, two-hour program can make anyone doubt why he or she has bothered to waste their time.
Show them the glory of the Eucharist. Bring them to Adoration. Let Jesus do most of the talking. Like the sacraments, Catholic faith has so many beautiful traditions. Incorporate them into your program. Jesus made each encounter a social experience. He sat around a table and addressed real issues. Make your sacramental preparation a special time that the candidates will remember forever along with their special day when they receive the sacrament.
“The Sacramental Shuffle” is walking the fine line between dynamic evangelization and catechetical force-feeding. Gently lean on those who come before you. Push them into the realm of personal practice. Offer the invitation to come before Christ each Sunday for the rest of their lives. Show them what they are missing: true joy in a relationship with Christ.