“How is the Youth Ministry program structured?”
It just is! It is a lived experience of the Parish – a lived experience of the Gospel and the Catholic Tradition. Programs have beginnings and ends. Youth Ministry has no beginning and no end. (Yes, it’s true, we all have calendars and must start somewhere, but keep reading!) Youth Ministry, for all intensive purposes, is on-going Faith formation through which youth and their families live out their Baptismal call within the life of the parish.
Every retreat, every service opportunity, every prayer experience, every catechetical experience, every worship experience is part of Comprehensive Youth Ministry.
Confirmation preparation is not separate from Youth Ministry but is a part of Youth Ministry, and Youth Ministry is seen as a part of the entire parish.
Here at Saint Patrick’s, we follow the Initiation Model of Youth Ministry (Initiation means open to all, person-centered, process-oriented, and follows the sequence of the Church calendar) where the parish itself is the structure and the people are the teachers. So technically, there is a curriculum or a “structure;” however, it's just not expressed or taught in the "traditional" way. The “structure” is best described as “the life of the parish.” This “life” is centered on Eucharist and the desire to be Eucharistic people. The goal of our process is to help the youth determine their place in the parish community and discover how they can share their personal and unique gifts, talents and faith with others. This is a life-long process.
“What are the requirements for Confirmation?”
1.One must be open to participation in the parish.
2.One must experience what it means to be Christian as lived out through our Catholic Tradition.
3.One must eventually choose Confirmation for oneself. In other words, there are no specific “requirements” imposed by the parish for the celebration of the Sacrament. One must take advantage of the myriad of opportunities to live out Christianity through the Roman Catholic Tradition that the parish provides.
“Why are there no specific requirements imposed by the parish for Confirmation?”
It is not the place of parish leadership to accept or deny someone access to a sacrament based on requirements that “we” have set for “them.” We have sacraments because we, the Church choose to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate that which has always been the case (that is, God’s loving presence). There is no set formula to achieve this. Every person is different and must work toward this according to his or her schedule, which is based on choices, needs and practices.
This is why curriculum-based Confirmation preparation simply does not make sense. Curriculums call for classroom settings, attendance taking, make-up sessions and program speeches. It says to the youth and their parents, “Do this in order to get confirmed,” rather than, “Do this in memory of me.” It separates itself from total Youth Ministry, from the parish, and from Eucharist (the catechism teaches that Confirmation must never be separated from Eucharist).
If faith is truly caught and not taught and Confirmation preparation is a part of an overall Youth Ministry, then curriculum-based Confirmation programs have no place in a parish’s mission to go and spread the Good News to and with its youth.
“So, how does one prepare for Confirmation under this vision?”
Simple! By participating in high school Youth Ministry in such a way that all eight components of Youth Ministry are experienced for at least two years. After two years, if the individual has come to a fuller recognition of God’s presence in and through his/her parish experience, a decision by the individual is made to celebrate or confirm this reality in and through the Sacrament of Confirmation. If this is so, the participation continues even more so than before. If not, perhaps more time is needed – and remember that is OK!
“How does the parish keep track of what everyone is doing to prepare for Confirmation?”
Again, Confirmation is not some reward or diploma given out to those who jump through the right hoops. It is an individual choice and a commitment to the community. Our diocesan guidelines call for two years of preparation at a high school level. We must trust that each of us will take the sacrament seriously and base his or her decision on sufficient experience.
“What about Catholic doctrine and teachings?”
This vision of Youth Ministry makes clear distinction between faith and religion. Faith is one’s belief in God, and religion is the way in which one expresses his/her faith. This distinction is important because under this vision of Youth Ministry, Faith is more of the focus than religion during the first two years of high school youth ministry. Specifically, Confirmation preparation focuses more on Christianity and what it means to be a Christian than on Catholicism and what it means to be a Catholic.
This does not mean that our Roman Catholic Religious Tradition is ignored! Certainly, all of Youth Ministry in the parish will be done through the Roman Catholic Tradition. This simply means that Christian virtues are more heavily focused on initially than are Church doctrine and teachings.
One must be able to accept and embrace the Christian Faith before one can accept and embrace the Catholic Religion. Consequently, the Action Retreat for freshmen and the Antioch Retreat for sophomores are Christian retreats. They focus on topics that challenge the young people to internalize how Jesus would be based on the values of the Gospel.
At Confirmation they are asked if they believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hopefully, all who come forward will have done so because of their firm belief in this Trinitarian Faith. They are also asked if they are willing to express their faith through the Roman Catholic Religious Tradition. This is a fair question, and their answer will be, “Yes,” if they have come forward for the sacrament; however, it must be understood that the majority of sophomores in high school are developmentally unable to fully embrace a religious tradition. Notice the emphasis on “fully,” because sophomores in high school are able to accept a religious tradition as if to say, “I like this religion. I still have many questions, but I’m willing to accept it as my religion, and I will strive to learn more about it.” But for most sophomores to fully embrace a religious tradition, any religion is unrealistic.
Because our religion is filled with the richness of symbols, “Catholicism” as a part of an educational curriculum or catechesis is not stressed until the later period of Mystagogia (see glossary for definition) or Post-Confirmation.
Our Church must be consistent with the developmental reality that teenagers in our culture are not ready to reflectively look at life’s truths through symbolism and metaphor until approximately the age of 16-17. They may grasp certain elements of our symbols, but they are still very much objective in their thinking in the early years of high school. With this in mind, Juniors and Seniors (newly confirmed) make up 95% of all retreat teams. They are now ready to think divergently. They are ready to step out of the box and reflect on their lives in such a way that it gives witness to their younger peers.
Also, the Mystagogia Retreat, which is offered to this age group, challenges these “neophytes” (a Greek word meaning “carrier of the sacred”) to take a serious look at their Roman Catholic Religious Tradition.
In a nut shell, this vision holds that once one has freely made the choice to confirm his/her baptismal promise through the sacrament of Confirmation, he/she is now open to “get knee deep” into our Sacred Tradition.
"How can I get my teen involved?”
First of all, celebrate Eucharist with them every week. The celebration of Eucharist is the core of who we are as Catholics. When celebrated authentically, there is no greater way to be a part of the parish.
Often, it seems that some teens (especially freshmen) need their parents/guardians to make them do almost everything. If parents/guardians never forced their teens to do anything, some teens would never do anything. That is why parents are encouraged to sign their teens up for things, at least at first.
For example, a freshmen girl may be an excellent singer, but she is too shy to come to God Unplugged by herself. Here is where parents need to step in and either make the girl try it or arrange for one of her friends to join her in trying it.
Also, parents are encouraged to also sign up to do service with their teens (Hey, we are all called to serve, as part of our Baptismal Call.) It’s a great way to get them involved and do something good for the community as a family.
The bottom line is this: The parish is a partner with the parent/guardian. Some teens need the adults in their lives to literally push them through the door. It usually takes one or two opportunities for a teen to experience, and then decide he/she wants more. Fortunately, here at Saint Patrick’s we have a great selection of opportunities for them to choose from.
“What do you recommend my teen do this year in Youth Ministry?”
Good question! Here are a few suggestions…