Sunday, May 20, 2012
STRIKING FEAR INTO THE HEARTS OF CONFIRMANDI, THE BISHOP ASKING QUESTIONS OF EACH CANDIDATE AND KUDOS TO BISHOP HARTMAYER AND HOME SCHOOLING FAMILIES
We had our first celebration of Confirmation with our new bishop this past Wednesday. Because of his scheduling conflicts he asked that it be the three parishes in Macon at St. Joseph. St. Peter Claver is multi-ethnic. It had begun as an African American Mission but in the late 1960's it was integrated with white families joining the parish. In the early 2000's the parish began an Hispanic ministry mostly for Mexican immigrants. About three years ago an African priest, Fr. Dan Melaba from Nigeria became their Parochial Administrator. I'd say that this is quite an eclectic parish. I was stationed there for about a year in 1979/80 as a seminarian, deacon and then priest.
While we normally have anywhere from 50 to 60 candidates, this year for some odd reason we only had 30 (we confirm in the 9th grade). St. Peter Claver had about 19 Hispanic 8th graders and about 10 African Americans and Holy Spirit Church had about 14 candidates, mixed races, I might add.
Our new bishop though has an interesting way of confirming. It has taken me several days to process it to determine if I like it or not. As each candidate comes forward, he places his hand on their head with his thumb on their forehead and continuously makes the "Sign of the Cross" on their forehead with his thumb as he asks them questions. The questions usually revolve around their saint's name but also included some other questions. It is not a test and he keeps it somewhat lighthearted. There were many smiles from the candidates and chuckles from the congregation. Then after this brief exchange, he places his thumb in the Sacred Chrism and anoints the candidate saying "Be Sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit" with the response "Amen" and then "Peace be with You" with the response "And with your spirit" which was the first time for that response too and the kids did it second nature except or the Hispanics whom I rehearsed the night before and told them to say that response in Spanish, which they did! (The Hispanic Kids are fluent bi-bilingually although their parents aren't).
I was standing next to the bishop as he confirmed and I must say that I was actually helping the kids to cheat by whispering obvious answers to them under my breath. One of my parishioners was asked, what was Pope Benedict's first name before he became pope. He clearly did not know it, so I whispered, the name of our parish, to which he responded to the bishop, St. Joseph!
But there were some rather awkward times when the kids really didn't know answers to questions that you would think those prepared for Confirmation should really know, that anyone would know, even an unchurched person in the south. But they didn't and I don't think it was just nervousness. When asked how many apostles there were, one child answered first "7" and when the bishop said no, try again, she said "3" and then when the bishop said, no, between and 11 and 12, she said 11 and 1/2! I don't think she was trying to be funny either.
Those awkward times and there were many of them is what caused me some mixed feelings about this process and it has taken me some time to process this Confirmation. Is it time that we start putting our kids on notice that they must know their faith and the very basics of their faith, like their saint's name's history and other trivia? And if they don't know that, what else don't they know. In our parish we know for a fact that there is plenty that they don't know and don't care to know given the fact we gave them an "exam" after Fr.Dawid and I met with each one of them from our parish for an interview.
The parish can't do it all. There has to be strong catechesis and Catholicism at home which I fear is lacking in 95% of our Catholic homes today. The children who do the best are those who are home-schooled! This is a sad commentary, for in times past, especially with parents who sent their children to Catholic schools, but most pre-Vatican II parents, the faith meant something very important in the home and was taught and lived there especially in the most sacramental ways. We've lost that for the most part in general, while our Catholic Home Schoolers have not. I'm beginning to think that we as a Church as we face the possibility of more Catholic schools closing that we help form Catholic Home Schooling Associations to help people form their children at home in all subjects with Catholicism at the core! Our parents need protection from the Public School system which is disastrous in my neck of the woods. And families should be doing home schooling especially in the faith even if they use actual institutional schools, Catholic or not!
So the bottom line is that while I had some discomfort seeing our kids somewhat embarrassed by the fact that they couldn't look the bishop in the eye and answer his basic questions, I took some pleasure in the fact that this alerted the parents in the congregation to take more responsibility with their children in handing on the faith for certainly word has spread throughout the three parishes what to expect for next year.
In addition, the Bishop insisted that the kids be properly dressed for Confirmation with girls wearing a white or off white dress (no pants) and dress shoes, no flip flops which have become so customary, and that the boys wear dark pants, white shirt and red tie and dress shoes! And when I got some flack for insisting on this, the bishop backed me up as I was doing what he had clearly asked at our priests' retreat even before he became our bishop. So I say, Kudos to Bishop Hartmayer!