It is not an uncommon story – a family that has been going to Church every Sunday together somehow find themselves struggling to keep this practice sustained and regular. As the children mature and reach the age of Confirmation, it appears that something has unhinged. The Confirmation seems to have confirmed one thing – that the teenager now wants to exercise his or her freedom in deciding whether or not to go to Mass, and in many cases, has decided to not be involved at all in any Church related activities. What has gone wrong? Isn’t this the antithesis of what Confirmation was a sign of? Has something ‘gone into’ these children who have decided to live secular, humanists and relativistic lives? Is this cause for worry and fear?
There are many factors that can contribute to this sad but familiar situation. The environment in which the children or the family had been immersed in does play a contributory role. Young, impressionable minds will be influenced by the ways their peers and role models live out (or don’t live out) their faith lives. The family setting is unarguably one of the prime settings for a firm faith foundation, where parents are open to learning, discussing and sharing their own faith experiences, and where prayer is nothing alien and foreign to the home. After all, it is a truth that the child’s first catechists are his parents, years before the Church catechists appear on the horizon of their lives.
But is this something that the Church envisions (where the family unit prays together and lives out their faith in a deep sharing) something that is a difficult task? In many ways, yes. The family is fighting to be holy and spiritual on so many fronts that it is easy to give in and ‘let the world take over’. It is after all, far easier to be ‘sacramentalised’ than to be ‘evangelized’. Let me elaborate.
Receiving the sacraments is not a deep challenge. After all, one only need fulfill the attendance at formation sessions with some degree of regularity, give the correct answers to questions that may be posed either by the catechists or some person of authority, and one can be ‘ready’ to receive the sacraments of initiation. From the moment of that all important First Holy Communion, receiving the Eucharist at Sunday Mass easily becomes the ‘norm’, and it is very easy to receive Holy Communion with nary a thought about the state of grace that one’s soul is in before receiving Our Lord. Many parents of children who have been lapsed Catholics simply keep silent when these children decide to turn up one day at Mass and join the congregation in receiving Holy Communion. Could it stem from an entitlement mentality, simply because one had been ‘sacramentalised’ before? Is there a sense that something is wrong and needs to be addressed but at the same time, one is facing a great reluctance to do something? What are the biggest fears that these parents face when their own children adopt an “I’ll come when I feel like” attitude?
But when there is proper evangelization and not just sacramentalisation, one curtails an individualism that can emerge from a formation of the soul that is either insufficient or inadequate. To be fair, the former is a far harder task. It requires each soul to be cared for, nurtured, loved and grown to become an ardent lover of God and of man. The person of Jesus Christ has to become real for each individual and this, unfortunately cannot come out of any cookie cutter programme alone. The person of Christ has to be the foundation of any endeavour of sacramentalisation because a sacrament is really not just meeting something, but encountering someone.
As an administrator of the Sacraments, I cannot but be concerned about whether or not the people of God are concerned about their search for holiness. It is not in my position to judge, but often, my deep yearning and longing for their holiness is misconstrued as a judgment. It is not. I suppose, like any concerned parent for the well-being of their children, so am I but on another level. I commiserate with the parents’ fears and concerns. I can sense their anxiety, and it often happens on many levels. Perhaps this concern stems from the fact that I am pursuing a course of study that has as its ultimate aim, the formation of souls who will ultimately be in charge of other souls, and the task ahead seems terribly onerous and challenging. I do not have any quick answers to this quandary that we seem to be facing as church, but what I do know is that this is something that we will have to handle with prayer, love and great sensitivity.
If Jesus could make excellent wine at Cana when there was hardly any left, there will always be hope. Our wine hasn’t quite run out yet.