It is estimated that within 5 years after getting confirmed, about 85% of then high-school students will leave the Catholic Church. Yes, that’s right, a whopping 85% are gone. How many of them come back? Very few. As someone who has taught Religious Education for students that are getting confirmed, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how we can better get these teens involved in their faith, and get them to have that desire to stay Catholic, after all, it is the Church of Jesus Christ.
Now, these are only ordered partially, but, I firmly believe that if these are implemented properly, we would be on a huge striving gain for not only getting legitimate confirmations (instead of the drive-thru Confirmation services that we currently have, in which most of them pretty much throw their faith right out into the trash the second they walk out of the Church), but, bringing that 85% down to a minimal 10% or even lower.
1. Parental Involvement is Necessary
Parents need to be involved every step of the way. I teach 10th graders. In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Confirmation occurs at 11th grade. By the time I step into the picture, most of my students have had 15 years of life lived. By now, they have 15 years of bad habits that have occurred, as well as guidance (or failed guidance) from their parents. Now, I know, this is not the case with everyone. There are some outliers on both sides, you have the Saintly parents who practice their faith and teach their faith to their children, and the children still leave the Church. Likewise, you have the parents who don’t or barely practice their faith and their kids come out to be Saintly. However, the average Catholic kid will turn out similarly to how their parents are. If your family is very Catholic, generally, you will come out very Catholic. If your family isn’t very Catholic, you will come out very not Catholic.
From what I have witnessed, the students I teach have as much interest in the class as their parents do. Some want to be there, and those are usually the ones that I see at Mass on a weekly basis. Some don’t want to be there, and those are usually the ones I never see at Mass (unless its required by the class).
When the parents actually want to be practicing their Catholic faith, the children, by default, generally want to practice this faith. If the parents are just going through the motions, “gotta make sure Susie gets confirmed”, but doesn’t practice, then why are we surprised that Susie doesn’t want to be in class, and leaves the Church the second she gets her drive-thru Confirmation? This ties into number 5, let’s not confirm students that do not want to be confirmed.
2. Move Confirmation Before First Communion
A long time ago, Confirmation was given to kids when they reached the age of reason, or about 7 years old. This way, the Holy Ghost would descend upon them, and make His mark on them. This way, they have those extra graces working within them while they are going through religious education and they get more out of that education. Kids would also receive the Sacrament of Confirmation before receiving their First Communion. It also showed how much more serious Confirmation was and made sure you were on pace for living a life molded within the Church.
Now, when we wait until the students are much, much older, they wonder what the point is. It then becomes an attitude that Confirmation just means that “you are an adult by the Church’s standards and can do whatever you want” or “its Catholic graduation, once you’re done, you don’t have to practice anymore”. I have lost count how many times I have heard lapsed-Catholics say these quotes. It shows how the Church has failed these Catholics.
If they are confirmed early, they will understand the faith more as they grow up, and will have all of those extra graces working in their favor, as opposed to not having those graces and not understanding the purpose of their faith.
3. The Liturgy
The Liturgy of the Mass is the most important aspect of Catholicism. It is when Heaven and Earth collide during the consecration of the bread and wine made Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is Catholicism 101. Yet, too often, the Masses are said without passion or meaning, the presider barely wants to be there (yes, some priests do not want to be up there celebrating the Mass or at least give this impression). Other times, the homilies are washed down to convey the idea that being a good person is all that really matters and they do not challenge us to be better Catholics or to practice our faith. Many times we hear music that is more fitting for a rock and roll Praise and Worship concert than an actual Catholic Mass. And unfortunately, a number of other liturgical abuses (yes, they are abuses) that make the Mass and all other Liturgies we celebrate, appear to be a joke, and rely completely on emotion that only lasts for as long as it is occurring.
The Liturgy is the foundation of our faith, it is where Catholics all congregate once per week, to worship, to be inspired not only by their pastor, by the music, by the awe inspiring that is Catholicism, and yet, we reduce it to nothing. Catholicism requires sacrifice, which has all been left out. The Liturgy needs to be restored (and no, I may be a Traditional Roman Catholic, but I’m not advocating a reversal of what has been done) to the reverency and beauty that it demands. Until this is done, nothing else on this list will even become accomplishable. Once this has been done, the following not only become achievable, but easy.
4. The Religious Education
Religious Education, CCD, Catechism, or whatever you want to call it, is rather poor. The lessons are good, but inappropriate for where most of the students are at. Before you get all upset and throw a fit, let me explain.
Most of the material that is discussed is out-dated, in that, it is full of the “Spirit of Vatican 2” mumbo jumbo that is all about talking about how merciful God is and how He really likes us and that really, it’s all about loving Him. There isn’t much substance to it. See, most of these kids have been hearing this being taught since they were in Kindergarten. The education is still a Kindergarten education while they are growing throughout their academic careers, and then we wonder why they have no interest in learning more. Well, we don’t challenge them. They go to school (public, private (Catholic) or home-schooled) and are learning all types of high-level subjects like Calculus, Trigonometry, Biology, Physics, College-level courses, but then they go to Religious Ed (you know, the only subject that matters in the end) and its the same lesson “God loves you!”
I’m not arguing that the education is wrong, because it isn’t, but it isn’t challenging what-so-ever. As a teacher, its absolutely annoying and almost enraging when the questions that we ask the kids are so dumbed down to the point that each kid knows the answer is “Pray more”. “How can you be better close to Jesus?”, I ask. “Pray more” the kids repeat in a monotonous tone. And, how could I forget, the personalism in this!? How about we teach them more about Christ’s actually teachings, like “Go Forth and Sin no More!” or teach them about various aspects of, I don’t know, their Catholic faith? They don’t know much about why we as Catholics believe this, but, we talk non-stop about having a “personal relationship with Jesus”. Tell me, can you imagine St. Peter, or St. Paul going around preaching “Hey! You need a personal relationship with Jesus!”? Absolutely not. This is a Protestant mentality.
At one of my lessons, we somehow got onto the point of Purgatory. I and the other teachers noticed that the kids perked up, they seemed interested. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, so I asked them if they’d like to know more. More than half the class raised their hands. I assume (yes, I know assumption is dangerous) that most of them have no clue what Purgatory is, or why we believe it. We should be teaching kids about why we are Catholic. That way when they go to college and get approached by every single other religion (who know why they believe what they believe) they aren’t left like a deer in headlights, looking confused, feeling awkward and are able to defend their faith.
Let’s find out what the children know, and teach them what they should know. I have found that many people, those in religious ed and those outside, do not know the details of their faith.
5. Confirming Students Who DON’T Want Confirmation
(This probably won’t be an issue if we implement problem 1). This one is going to be one where I’m sure we’ll get lots of disagreement. But, there are a number of students who do not want to be confirmed. Yet, we go ahead and let them because “that’s what we’re supposed to do”. Now, I ask, how effective is a Sacrament, if you are forced into it? If you go to Confession, and you aren’t sorry, you are just going through the motion, is it still valid? The Church teaches that if you don’t have a contrite heart, if you aren’t sincere and truly repentant, than your confession doesn’t do anything. The Church teaches that if a spouse had no intention of getting married and just went through the motions, we are told that that would be valid reason for an annulment (a true, valid marriage never took place). How about Communion? Don’t you have to actually physically walk up to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord?
This isn’t at all like Baptism, in which the baby is unable to decide for herself because she is not at the age of reason. We are talking about teenagers. Teenagers who are fully competent to know what they do or do not want (whether or not what they want is good is another topic). What is the meaning of the Sacrament if we are giving it forcibly to those who do not want to receive it? When we are Confirmed we are promising to everyone and especially GOD that we are going to be faithful to the Church. If my intent is to, say, stop practicing once we leave the Confirmation Mass, I am lying to God, to those in attendance and to myself. Yet, we go ahead and let this occur.
Besides, most of the time those that do get Confirmed rarely come back to the Church. I think it’d make more sense that if they want Confirmation, then they should go through RCIA when they are older. This way, they are actually wanting that Sacrament, and then, on top of that, we see that they are actually going to practice their faith and be on fire for it. That’s what we want right? Let’s confirm those who are wanting to be Catholic, and those that will just use it as an opportunity to bad-mouth the Church later, you know the “recovering Catholics”, we can leave behind.
Frankly, we should bring back the days in which the Bishop would quiz each student, before receiving Confirmation. If the student got the question incorrect, they weren’t allowed to be Confirmed. When you practice anything, whether it be your faith or anything, you should at a minimum know why you are doing it. This point ties into the next.
6. No Accountability For Learning
Currently, in most parishes, there is absolutely no accountability if the student comes to class or even pays attention or learns anything. Why? If little Thomas is skipping class every single week, it is clear that he has no intention of coming to class. If I assign homework, and nobody does it, I can’t give out zeros and then hold them back a grade. We have set up a catechesis class in the Church, that in short, emphasizes that it isn’t important. If I flunk my math class at school, I don’t pass, I have to redo it. If I flunk my class in Religious Ed, I’m moved along to the next grade not having learned anything and become a distraction to those who want to be there. We in essence are subtly teaching our classes that it isn’t important, that our academic schooling is far more important. We are teaching them subtly that the world is where they want to conform to, and that religion is just a minor thing you practice if you care.
We also, like mentioned in point 4, do not teach them what they need to know. Sure, we can say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is important, but we are all flawed humans and we can subject our own views onto this said relationship. If you do not know who Jesus is, how can you even have a relationship? If I do not know what He teaches, how do I have this relationship? Let’s actually teach the children who Christ is, what He taught and what His Church, His Spouse teaches.
Implementing these ideas would be a great start in bringing back passion to those getting Confirmed and allow them to grow in their faith. Let’s make Saints, not allow them to stay as sinners.