I was wandering around in Blogland and followed Matthew Lickona‘s trail over to Jennifer’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic. Her post recounting her forced confirmation at age twelve, incited me to jump into the discussion with my own reflections on the adolescent confirmation experience:

Around the time I was confirmed in the Lutheran church of my youth, I remember a friend of mine asking me: Do you really believe it? I had, on my own, been reading around in the gospels and had concluded that, since Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, that maybe he was downplaying the whole divinity thing, that maybe the church got that wrong. I remember replying to my friend: “Well, I’m not sure about this ‘Son of God’ business.” The emphasis in my confirmation class seemed to be on learning the ten commandments and maybe some stuff out of Luther’s catechism. None of it challenged me to reflect on the radical message of Christ. Or maybe I was too young.

A few years later, when I was a junior in high school (a public high school, no less) I took a class called Humanities — a hodge-podge study of arts and culture and philosophy. One of the readings was C.S. Lewis’s introduction to The Problem of Pain, which includes a capsule version of his argument for Christ’s divinity: either Christ was who he said he was (”before Abraham was, I AM”) or he was a liar or a lunatic. That blew me away like nothing I had ever heard in church or in confirmation class.

Now I’m 40 and I’ve been confirmed twice more, once in the Episcopal church and finally in the Roman Catholic Church. When I consider how to bring my daughter up in the faith (she’s almost 2 now) I recoil at the thought of making of confirmation the sort of automatic (even worse, imposed) societal rite of passage that it was for you and me. I’d like to bring her up in such a way that faith might take have taken root in an informed and lively way by the time she reaches adolescence, but I wonder if that’s likely. I pray that it happens. But it seems to me that the Church (or maybe it is a matter of individual priests and parents and parishes) would be a lot more honest if confirmation were not a manufactured rite of passage set to occur at a specific age.


  1. Jonathan, thank you for sharing your story. I have a feeling that there are many of us who experienced the exact same thing.

    Somehow, I don’t imagine it is what the Church intended. I think the problem is that responsibility of the sacraments we receive in our youth tends to fall to the schools and CCD calsses and so they are required to handle the sacraments en masse rather than treating us individually. Of course, I don’t think this really excuses them for pushing kids who actually resist following the tide to just go with the flow.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    And yet, you have a bishop (I think it’s in Phoenix) who is bringing back the practice of bestowing Confirmation before Holy Communion, way down there at age eight or so…

    I had a very similar pre-confirmation experience, Jonathan. Happily, my dad took my doubts seriously and helped me work through them.

  3. I think that what Matthew says is the key. His dad put Matthew’s doubts and faith before his own desire to have his son confirmed, as did not seem to happen in these other cases (what a crime!).

    My own daughters, 15 and 17, have talked with us a lot about their faith and did not seem to have any doubts before they were confirmed. If they had, I would have told them to wait until they were sure (of course, I was raised as an atheist so I have a different outlook … but that’s what my husband would have told them also).

  4. Well done on a topic that goes well beyond Catholicism and the early off-shoots.

    This thorny problem runs down through the family tree to your red-clay protestant denominations. Getting “saved” or having “got saved” was a BIG deal in my extended family and throughout the tough-enough times of Jr. High and High School. Getting saved can sometimes mean baptism (how ever the congregation applies that term) or even better – Getting up before a congregation and loudly and hopefully full of tears crying out that you needed Jesus’ help and that you were full of sin and needed to get washed in the blood of the lamb, were ready to be a good chritian, and so forth. That’s some pretty heavy stuff to lay on a kid/teenager.

    The earlier this happened, the better. Well before any age of consent – And – I’m not sure what good it does to anyone but the relief of family members that the poor, pressured kids not going to hell – and the notch in the proverbial belt that the Preacher gets for having this early early conversion experience happen on his watch.

  5. Jonathan Potter says

    Thank you all for a great batch of thoughtful comments. The thing about my adolescent doubts is they weren’t at all formulated at the time — I don’t think I had enough information for that. I’m sure my folks would have been supportive and explored the issues with me if I had expressed reluctance about the process, but it didn’t even occur to me that that might be an option.

  6. Having grown up in a agnostic family in a secular (and highly permissive) California subculture, it’s difficult for me to relate to any of the above experiences. I’m just assuming that my kids will have the good sense to desire confirmation, and if they don’t, will desire to avoid a thrashing.

  7. Jonathan Potter says

    I guess there is always the other side of the horse to fall off of, too. A friend of mine emailed me and raised the question of the social nature of the sacraments, and the fact that our motives will always be mixed and our knowledge incomplete. (How little do we really know about what we’re getting into, sacramentally speaking, when we embark on marriage, for example?)

    I wouldn’t want to impose a false hyper-intellectual scrupulosity onto our kids either. Shuffling them (and ourselves) through certain milestones in the faith may not be a bad thing.

  8. Confirmation is sacralicious!

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