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Mitchell RozanskiMay 17, 2024
Confirmation candidate Ayden Morocho kneels in prayer as his sponsor, Grace Esposito, stands behind him during a confirmation Mass May 5, 2022, at Holy Family Church in Queens, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

As a newly ordained bishop some two decades ago, I remember another bishop telling me, “I like my night job better than my day job.” He was referring to celebrating the sacrament of confirmation at parishes, which usually takes place in the evening. At the time I was amused by his remark, but over the years I have come to appreciate his sentiment.

In dioceses throughout our country and our world, the Easter season is filled with confirmation celebrations. It is an opportunity for bishops to be in the parishes, meeting priests, deacons, catechists, youth ministers, teachers and all those responsible for the formation of our young people. We get to meet the adults who take them through programs for the sacrament that seals their baptism and bestows upon them the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is also a time to affirm our young people who are called to commit to living out our Catholic faith.

As bishops, along with other teachers of our faith, we need to look carefully at what confirmation means in our society today. When I was a pastor years ago, I remember struggling with an infestation of pigeons in the church steeple. A few members of our maintenance committee met with me to strategize how to get rid of those pesky birds, who were making an ecological mess of the belfry. One of the men quipped to me, “Father, I know how to get rid of those pigeons: Confirm them!”

While the group chuckled at his humor, I felt the sting of what his words meant. Sadly, confirmation has become for many a rite of passage, of “getting in all the sacraments.” Recent statistics tell us that people are leaving the practice of the faith at earlier ages. Yet, as I meet with young people preparing for confirmation, I see a yearning for something more in their lives, beyond the noise and distractions of technology and the social isolation that pervades our culture today.

Even though some statistics may be discouraging, I know how much I rely on those sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit that are bestowed in confirmation. I believe that the graces of wisdom, knowledge, piety, understanding, counsel, fortitude and fear of the Lord are planted in the hearts of those who receive this wonderful sacrament. Ministry in the church has always relied on trust in the Lord that the seeds we plant will grow in the future, perhaps at a time beyond our life span.

Meeting the young people who are being confirmed gives me great hope that Jesus’ promise to be with us always is fulfilled in bestowing the sacrament of Confirmation on them, opening their hearts to the Lord’s grace to guide them throughout their lives.

In preparation for Confirmation, many young people write letters to me describing their faith journey. I am edified by their insights and the stirrings of faith they have in their hearts. A recent letter gave me much hope that the young writer has grasped the meaning of the sacrament. He anticipates receiving confirmation because he feels that the sacrament will strengthen his faith, deepen his connection to God, help him mature spiritually and develop a deeper understanding of faith.

He wrote of his call to be further involved with the parish community, solidifying his sense of belonging within the church, where he can grow and thrive. Most encouraging, he spoke of helping others deepen their faith by his own witness and example.

His words express the meaning of discipleship in our world today, of being integrally connected to the church, our beliefs and teachings and sharing that good news with others. I was greatly heartened by his letter and his experience of our faith. This young man knows what it means to have full membership in the church.

Those who are ordained as preachers of the word know well the responsibility placed upon us to help God’s people understand the Scriptures, the teachings of our church and how to live as disciples in our world. I am conscious of the faith lives of the many relatives and friends who attend confirmation Masses. I know that they vary from committed Catholics to those who have a loose affiliation with the church. Hence, in my homily during confirmation Masses, I explain the meaning of renewing baptismal promises, the significance of the imposition of hands and the use of the chrism for the sacrament.

While I may celebrate confirmation several days a week during the Easter season, it is important to remember that members of each congregation may witness the rite only a few times throughout their faith lives. In addition to explaining to those who are about to be confirmed what they are entering into, it is important to remind all the members of the congregation of what their confirmation means to them in their lives. It is affirming to know that they listen during the homily, sometimes remarking afterward, “You know, Bishop, I forgot about that part of confirmation.”

All of us need to refresh our faith knowledge. Confirmation presents the perfect opportunity to reach out to all who attend the ceremony

Now, after my 20 years as a bishop, the celebration of confirmation is an affirmation of the statement I heard years ago, “I like my night job better than my day job!”

Correction, May 20: The title of this article originally misidentified Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski as a bishop rather than an archbishop. The author I.D. also misidentified St. Louis as a diocese rather than an archdiocese.

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