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Confirmation and taking ownership of our faith Print
Guest column
Journey with Faith
Deacon Lawrence Oparaji

One of the most exciting things that happen in the fall is the Sacrament of Confirmation. Bishop Donald Hying will travel to the corners of the diocese, imparting and strengthening the gifts of the Holy Spirit in many wonderful young people.

As part of these efforts and to help with preparations, recently Mary Kate Van Wagner and I were at the parish cluster of Patch Grove, Cassville, Bloomington, and Glen Haven, Wis., for a Confirmation retreat, which was amazing!

Confirmation retreat

It was my first time being part of a Confirmation retreat, and I must say I was inspired in a lot of ways by the openness of the kids, their cooperation, and willingness to be vulnerable with two total strangers. A word of thanks to Fr. John Meinholz for his dedication and service to these communities.

Before the retreat, I was very familiar with the whole “idea” of Confirmation being a graduation from faith formation and for some an end to their active participation and growing in their faith.

So before going in, Mary Kate’s and my mission was clear: to help these kids think in the opposite direction and to really see this sacrament as an empowerment.

We came out successful and had some good encounters and experiences, especially during Mary Kate’s inspiring talk and when we handed out letters their parents had written to the confirmands.

Not a ‘graduation’

But we still have a “problem,” and there is a need for a renewal of our understanding of this empowering sacrament. Confirmation is a very important sacrament in the life of the Church. It is through this sacrament that our Baptism is strengthened, and we are commissioned to go out into the world, to live our faith, and to proclaim Christ crucified, Christ buried, and Christ risen.

It is through this sacrament that we are empowered to be witnesses. It is neither a graduation sacrament nor a “goodbye” sacrament, as it has come to be known; rather, it is the continuation of our long-life journey of faith.

It is the beginning of the life of a missionary disciple, who goes out into the world empowered with the graces received at Confirmation, lives the life of a Christian witness, and by so doing, calls others to the joy, peace, happiness, and fulfillment that lie in a life with Christ.

Taking ownership

We mature in our faith by actively taking ownership for it and living it out through loving God and others. It is through Confirmation that we take that ownership of our faith, that we become soldiers of Christ.

As we know, soldiers have their mission and marching orders, and as Christians, our marching orders and mission is to be holy and to be saints, by loving God and our neighbor.

Many leave Church by 23

Recent surveys have shown that at least 70 percent of young people leave the Church by age 23. Most of them become what is known as “nones,” a population that does not identify with any specific religion.

I am convinced that even though life is challenging, confusing, and painful, faith is the healthiest, most peaceful, and surest way to go through all these challenges, confusions, and pain.

How can we drive through life without Christ, who is the Way? How can we know anything without Christ, who is the Truth? And how can we live life without Christ, who is Life? So, my entire aim in this retreat was to help these dear young people encounter Christ, desire him, fall in love with him, and stay in love with him.

Empowerment of Holy Spirit

Our modern world can sometimes seem confusing and very hostile toward Christ and His message. But we can learn a lot from the 12 apostles, who before their own “confirmation,” before Pentecost, were men filled with fear, locked up hiding in a room; but upon the empowerment with the Holy Spirit, they became bold and brave and went out to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

The result was the conversion of 3,000 people on Pentecost and the birth of the Church as we know it today, which has withstood the test of time. This is what the graces of Confirmation can do if we open ourselves to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. We can accomplish the unthinkable and ultimately, we become saints.

Keeping the flame alive

We need to foster a life after Confirmation. Confirmation bestows on us gifts and helps us put them at the service of others, but what use is a gift if it is never unwrapped.

If a flame is not fed, that flame is surely going to quench, and I think this is one area where the nones could use our help. We all, as a community of believers and as witnesses, can blow air on the flame to help keep it alive and nourish the graces Confirmation bestows.

Therein lies our duty as Christians, as family members, as pastors, as friends: the very important duty of helping others not only discover their gifts, but also put them to use at the service of God and others.

We can do this by personally inviting confirmands to join various ministries. If a confirmand is good at singing, personally invite them to join the choir; if a confirmand enjoys serving, invite them to join you serving others through beautiful ministries like Love Begins Here, Camp Gray, serving at Mass, Luke House, The Beacon, and so on.

By giving confirmands an opportunity to do what they love while putting their faith into action, we are planting seeds of an encounter with a God who loves us and desires our love. They will be inspired to die to self and move from a self-centered view of life to a more Christ-centered view, because our greatest commandment is love of God and neighbor.

Lastly, I invite you to pray for all the students of Confirmation that they will open up their hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, cooperate with these gifts, and put them at the service of God and others.

Deacon Lawrence Oparaji is a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Madison serving at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie.