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October 10, 2005
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Confirmation and Service Hours
What I remember most about the year my oldest son was confirmed was watching him hustle to find service projects. He had six weeks to complete his contract for 40 hours of good deeds. His constant question was, “Can I count this for my hours?”
The idea of requiring service hours for Confirmation seems sound enough. Leading others in the ministry of service is one of the six tasks of catechesis and is important not only to Confirmation preparation but also to all catechesis. However, for service to be a legitimate part of any catechetical program, it has to be more than an end in itself. Service is an effective part of catechesis when we allow the ministry itself to teach. And like so many lessons it is best learned in, with and through community.
In my book, Practical Catechesis: Visions and Tasks for Catechetical Leaders, I talk about “The Catechesis of Service” and how important it is to understand that service is more than a project. For Christians, young and old, service should be an attitude, a way of life. I discuss learning about service by observing and participating with the community.
I also think it is important to create opportunities for service involving all age groups. In Practical Catechesis I talk about a particular intergenerational service project called “Share the Bounty” that I inaugurated at each of the parishes where I’ve worked. It involves sharing Halloween candy with young adult parishioners who are away from home. It might be appropriate this year to share our bounty with other young people who are unable to go “trick or treating” because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. (Click here to learn more about the catechesis of service as well as this particular service activity.)
Consider how Jesus taught his disciples about service: Service was never just an action—it was a way of life. It was only after years of walking with the disciples that Jesus sent them out to serve, and then he made sure they never went out alone.
St. Anthony Messenger Press (SAMP) would be happy to sponsor Judith Dunlap as a speaker in your diocese. Judith has done presentations on numerous catechetical subjects including family catechesis. If you allow her a few minutes to present information regarding her family catechetical series, God Is Calling, SAMP will pick up all travel costs, etc. E-mail inquiries to, or call her at SAMP (1-800-488-0488, ext. 163).
Sacraments of Initiation
Confirmation is one of the three sacraments of initiation. Along with Baptism and the Eucharist, this sacrament incorporates us into the Body of Christ. We associate this sacrament with the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit that we were first blessed with in Baptism.
I remember teaching young people who were preparing for Confirmation that this sacrament invites us to be open to the Holy Spirit—open not only to receive the Spirit but also to share the Spirit. When the bishop makes the sign of the cross with oil on their heads, they should consider themselves blessed and commissioned to share that Spirit with everyone they encounter.
The “Leader’s Guide” to God Is Calling (a family catechetical series) offers several mini-retreats for families or other intergenerational groups. In September of 2003, this column gave you a sampling from the first half of the retreat on sacraments. In this issue you can sample a short program that introduces people to the sacraments of initiation. The process looks at each sacrament’s symbol and discusses how each symbol speaks to the sacrament’s meaning. (Click here to read directions on facilitating this activity in your parish.)
Since this activity involves reading various passages from the Bible, you might want to begin by reviewing how to read the abbreviations that cite scriptural passages. The activity ends with a simple ritual based on my memories of an old Polish custom of breaking bread and sharing it on Christmas Eve.
Electronic Media About Confirmation
Don’t waste my time!
That’s my attitude when I go to mandatory meetings these days: “This had better not be a waste of my time.”
Time is precious for busy adults. It’s an insult to them to waste their time at sacramental preparation parent or sponsor meetings going over all the details that you’re also giving them on handouts. They’re adults who are coming with their own experiences, their own knowledge, their own needs and their own questions. It is most respectful when you plan a gathering that takes these things into consideration.
A person really shouldn’t assume that folks are coming with a common understanding when it comes to the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the case of a Confirmation sponsor meeting, it makes sense to make sure that everyone is on the same page since Confirmation is celebrated at different ages and is explained in different ways, even from parish to parish and diocese to diocese. Preparation processes and requirements reflect these differences.
Inviting participants to reflect on their own experiences of Confirmation and, most especially, their experiences of the Holy Spirit’s action in their lives is a good way to make the session (and the sacrament) “real” for the sponsors. A meaningful reflection would lead them through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to see where they experience each one of these gifts in their personal lives and in their faith community.
Once sponsors have connected with the sacrament and the Spirit, it’s time to connect them to their candidates. What are their candidates learning? Where are they developmentally? What are they required to do to prepare to celebrate Confirmation? What is the timeline of the parish’s preparation process? What are they as sponsors required to do? What are they as sponsors encouraged to do?
I know I’ve mentioned before that one of the highlights of my past year has been serving as a Confirmation sponsor for two special young women in my life. My friend and neighbor, Teresa, was confirmed in April. My niece and goddaughter , Brittany, will be confirmed in late October. Both parishes—one in Ohio, the other in Indiana—required and helped facilitate sponsor-candidate sharing on the topics covered in the preparation processes.
I talk and write about my faith all the time, but it’s different initiating one-on-one faith sharing with a quiet 14 year old. I really appreciated the requirement and assistance the parishes gave us in connecting on faith topics. I met with Teresa at one of our homes. Brittany and I did most of our communication via e-mail. What each parish asked us to do was different but the intent was the same: to talk together about our faith lives. I not only grew closer to these two girls through our sharing but also learned that some sort of regular, required sponsor-candidate interaction with specific tasks or questions helps people make a faith connection.
I’ve selected a clip from the teaching segment of Handing on the Faith: Forming Confirmation Sponsors to share with you (RealMedia | Windows Media). This video was designed to help catechetical leaders offer Confirmation sponsors formation that’s not a waste of their time. Its four segments (story, witness, teaching and music video [prayer]) can be used separately or together to enhance a sponsor meeting that’s tailored to the needs of your candidates’ sponsors. Those looking for more specific instruction on the Sacrament of Confirmation itself will also find useful the video Sealed With God’s Spirit: Sacrament of Confirmation. This video also contains a fantastic story segment that can be used as a discussion starter when candidates and sponsors come together for a formation event or retreat.
Remember, make every sacramental preparation meeting for parents and sponsors a true adult faith-formation gathering. Consider the needs of those participating. Be creative in helping facilitate faith connections between sponsors and candidates. And don’t waste anybody’s time—theirs or yours!
Making Confirmation Class More Interesting
Confirmation preparation can take a lot of different directions depending on your creativity, the needs of the confirmandi or the wandering attention of a group of healthy adolescents. Here are a few suggestions for adding a little spice to your preparation program.
Choosing a patron saint is still a popular activity for those preparing for Confirmation. Looking for stories about different saints? Try Saint of the Day edited by Franciscans Leonard Foley and Pat McCloskey or Treasury of Women Saints by Ronda De Sola Chervin. For younger confirmandi, Saints and Heroes for Kids by Ethel Pochocki offers stories about more than three dozen saints and holy people.
Confirmation classes—especially with high school students—tend to bring up a lot of questions about “things Catholic:” “Why do Catholics do that?” “Do Catholics really believe that?” Catholic Questions, Wise Answers and Catholic Questions, Catholic Answers offer lots of concise answers to some pretty common (and some obscure) questions. And Al Kresta’s books, Why Do Catholics Genuflect? and Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin?, are also informative (and entertaining) collections of questions and answers.
Finally, a couple of books full of entertaining stories about growing up in a Catholic family are Coffee With Nonna and More Coffee With Nonna by Servant author Vincent Iezzi. They provide wonderful stories that might grab those adolescent attentions for just a little longer.
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