Faith Formation by Rosemary Lavelle
When I look back on my own Confirmation day, I remember two strong emotions. Firstly, I was afraid of not being able to answer the question that the bishop might ask me. Secondly, I was deeply embarrassed dressed in my ‘Confirmation suit’. I didn’t choose it, my mother did. Although it was the height of fashion, I felt very uncomfortable wearing it on the day. Today young people can express their own ideas and can choose what they want to wear and how they want to look. In the past people knew what they believed even if, at times, they didn’t know why. Nowadays, children learn that faith is a relationship with God. They will not be tested on a catechism question before being confirmed. We know that faith has content and is challenging for parents and children. Parents have an important role in modelling an integrated faith life for their children leading to a more wholesome relationship with God.
During this month children preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation will be enrolled at one of the Sunday Masses in the parish and they will renew their baptismal promises. Baptism brings to mind the beginning of our journey of faith. This time of preparation for the sacrament can be an opportunity for parents to appreciate their own faith and explore and reflect on their own life-choices. Parents could take out photos of their child’s Baptism and attend a Baptism ceremony with them. Parents could also talk to their child about their own memories of Confirmation and revisit the rituals that formed them in faith. They can guide their child in choosing a Confirmation name, as is the custom, and in choosing a sponsor. A strong link between Baptism and Confirmation will be evident if the child’s God-parent is available to be the sponsor.
The parish is made up of many different families. A sense of belonging to the parish can be experienced when parents accompany their children to Mass on Sunday where hopefully, they will see other families. Children learn that while we can have a personal relationship with God and pray privately, celebrating Mass every Sunday expresses our sense of belonging to a wider community of faith. Prayer nourishes our faith and is essential for our spiritual development and formation. The faith of parents is more effective when ritual prayer is authentic and incorporated into family life. A child receives the first elements of catechesis from its parents and the family surroundings. When parents spend time with their child talking to them about their day, family relationships can be enriched. It is in this kind of listening and relating that prayer time with children becomes natural. The parent and child can look back together on their day, at all that has happened, and ask each other the question “What can I thank God for today”? After a time of sharing and listening parents can invite their child to pray with them by asking “Who or what do we need to pray for?” Prayers at bedtime and at mealtimes are other ways to gently encourage an attitude of praise and thanks to God for everything. Children can be encouraged to lead simple table prayers at mealtimes. The whole family can have the experience of prayer gathered around the baptismal candle, singing simple songs learned in school. The language of blessing and thanking God creates an awareness of the presence of God in our everyday family life. This can give children a context for their relationship with God.
Encouraging prayer in the home contributes to the growth and development of a child’s faith. Visual displays of faith, icons, pictures, holy water fonts are subliminal reminders to a child growing up that God is present in their lives. Parents and Grandparents can communicate God’s love and care for their children by blessing them with holy water before they leave the house or when they are sick or anxious. Children can grow to recognise and value the authentic; our young people do not respect hypocrisy. Sadly, as parents we can often tell our children how to behave and find ourselves behaving differently.
The challenge for us as Christian parents is to live what we believe and be prepared to answer lots of questions about attitudes and lifestyle. How do we, as parents express the command “to love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34) that is so necessary, especially within family life. We are called to be aware of the needs of others. How do we talk about the needs of others? How do we respond? Parental attitudes are communicated with and without words.
Children will understand the Sacrament of Confirmation by observing the efforts their parents make to accompany them in all their preparations. Confirmation is not about a day; it is about a way of life.
Rosemary Lavelle is Pastoral Coordinator at the Office of Evangelisation and Ecumenism, Holy Cross Diocesan Centre, Dublin.