MADISON -- Visitors to Wisconsin are often surprised and complimentary at how wonderful a place Wisconsin is to live. They take note of the strong sense of culture and history here, the natural beauty, and all that there is to do -- both in winter and, especially, in summer.
In listening to visitors, sometimes locals are awakened to all that they might take for granted, simply by the fact that their surroundings have become so familiar.
In the very same way, it's certainly easy to become familiar and even bored with so many aspects of the Church -- including the Catholic faith itself and the personal encounter each person is called to have with Christ in the sacraments of the Church.
Perhaps this temptation to familiarity and boredom can be even greater for those who have grown up Catholic -- with reception of the sacraments and so much being done "just because." Sometimes, in matters of personal faith, too, it takes a new perspective to see again the blessings with which one is surrounded.
New collaborative format
With this desire for a rediscovery, as well as a number of practical concerns in mind, parishes around the diocese have been asked to undertake the Sacrament of Confirmation in a new way. Starting this spring, diocesan parishes will work together to celebrate large-scale "regional" Confirmation Masses, involving students, priests, and families from several parishes.
This new collaborative format should bring students, formed and equipped by their families and parishes, into contact with other area Catholics and give them a tangible experience of the universality and unity of the Church.
The new format also responds to the changing demographics of the diocese, Bishop Morlino's desire to be with the young people of all 131 diocesan parishes for Confirmation, and the many scheduling challenges faced.
The new format has already been tested in two locations this past fall and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Mary Mueller, who serves as director of sixth to 12th grade religious education at St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville, was tasked with being the lead contact for three parishes which combined for a large Confirmation in September.
Mueller, who has been at St. John Vianney for several years, said that the new format drew the community together, "The kids saw others who they didn't even know were Catholics and parents, too, saw other parents who they know and maybe work with, and learned about a bond they never knew they had.
"The fear was there that we were somehow going to loose our identity as a parish, but in the end we weren't losing, but gaining something -- we as teachers and our kids, and even their families, were gaining a sense that we are united as a universal, Catholic Church."
Feedback on new plan
Last year, Eric Schiedermayer, executive secretary of the diocese's Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, conducted a series of workshops with religious education directors and pastors around the diocese to introduce and get feedback on the new plan.
Schiedermayer says that the new format, in addition to hopefully solving a few of the consistent scheduling problems, should be a living example of all of the four "Marks of the Church."
"In addition to seeing a small part of the way that the Church into which they are being confirmed is one and catholic," Schiedermayer says, "the students will also be encountering the Church as holy and apostolic -- since they'll be praying (working at holiness) with the bishop (the successor of the Apostles)."
The new plan is definitely a change – for parishes, staff, and parents -- but Mueller says the growing pains are worthwhile. The combination of several parishes in one church will mean that space will become limited, but Mueller said in her situation "ultimately even that worked out really, really well."
"There are certainly tough aspects to the whole process," Mueller added, "because it's different and it takes compromise, but when you keep at the forefront of your mind that it's really about the sacrament and the good of these kids, in the end it is an 'easy burden.'"
William Yallaly is associate director of communications and executive assistant to the bishop for the Diocese of Madison.