Mind the Gap: Crossing over from Old to New


Recently, I’ve been working with both a parish and a deanery to help them plan more evangelistic, “discipling” Confirmation processes. We have enjoyed some really invigorating sessions together that have left us all more enthusiastic and determined to create a Confirmation process that evangelises. What interested me most was that both groups of catechists reached the same conclusion independently: that a far more radical overhaul was needed – no longer should an annual programme be put on, they reasoned; a far more authentic approach would involve the parish or deanery putting their resources into running a comprehensive youth ministry. Young people from within the youth ministry would be prepared to receive the sacrament of Confirmation once they had reached a certain stage in their discipleship.

I am convinced that this is the more authentic model that the Church is likely to move towards necessarily in the years and decades ahead. Until we collectively have the courage to call time on the current model, we will continue to go to exhaustion-inducing lengths to prop up a crumbling, institutional system which sacramentalises the unevangelised and barely catechised.

However, right now, few if any parishes have taken this step, and unsung heroic catechists need to find ways to evangelise as best as possible within the crumbling old model.

In this context, we need to ask ourselves – what do we want to achieve? What are our goals? It is a question I always pose to catechists during a Transformed in Christ training workshop. Often, I find that it is a question catechists have not asked themselves before. With great generosity, they faithfully deliver the programme that was put together some years ago, a medley of resources following a semi-logical structure. Catechists are invariably busy people (it is always the busy ones who say yes) and it is all they can manage to deliver the programme, organise the Confirmation Mass and respond to parents’ enquiries before collapsing in June, glad that it’s over for one more year. Evaluating how fruitful the programme has been, too? There’s just no way…

But – however we manage it – I would say this is as indispensable to a programme as the admin of collecting everyone’s baptism certificates. Why do the same thing, year in, year out, if it is not achieving what you need it to achieve?

What criteria would you use to evaluate your programme’s effectiveness? Many catechists would say that they know it’s effective if their candidates continue to attend Sunday Mass. But I would add that Mass attendance would be a sign of something else: a living relationship with God, through an encounter with Christ.

Why is a relationship with God the most fundamental thing?

  • Firstly, it is the very beginning and foundation of discipleship. The whole purpose of the Church is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). While it would be unrealistic to expect one Confirmation programme to help every candidate to become “intentional” disciples (which is why a new model is needed), it can certainly help them through the first stages towards discipleship – perhaps to an openness to a relationship with God which they realise means a whole new way of living;
  • Secondly, the sacraments are fruitful only when we receive them with faith – that is another way of saying, in relationship with God. If a candidate receives Confirmation knowing that God is real and that he loves him or her, the chances of those graces flourishing in that person’s life are far greater.

How fruitful is your programme? If you want to honestly appraise what your programme’s goals are and whether or not you achieve them, ask yourself: Does your programme evangelise? Does it awaken faith? Does it create conditions (through Adoration and Reconciliation) for a personal encounter with God? Does it help candidates know what discipleship entails? Does it help them set off on that path, through the first few stages?

While, for many of us, turning around the sinking ship is something we can’t make decisions about, what we can do is work towards a relentlessly, uncompromisingly evangelistic approach. This is the only way to catechise within our current situation.

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