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New Beginning

During this Year of Faith, we will blog reflections and stories to accompany you on your faith journey.
There were two things about receiving the sacrament of confirmation that we dreaded when we were kids. One was the “slap on the face” we would get from the bishop; the other was the questions the bishop would ask, expecting verbatim answers from the Baltimore Catechism.
That was more than 50 years ago; somewhere along the way, the so-called slap disappeared from the confirmation ritual. It was supposed to remind us that being a Christian wasn’t all beer and skittles, that it involved responsibility, that it might even mean suffering for the faith, as in, “He would be my disciple must take up his cross. …”
Kids love the bizarre, and so the legend perpetuated among Catholic kids back then was that the bishop would give us a whack upside the head just about the time we were to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
As it turned out, he only brushed his fingers across our cheeks; I don’t remember whether we were relieved or disappointed.
There was some legend wrapped around the questions, too, although in those days the bishop did ask them and we did try to answer right out of the catechism.
I never heard of an instance in which a bishop reprimanded a candidate—or, worse yet, withheld the sacrament because a boy or girl flubbed the answer, but we kids loved to imagine the worst.
I worried about this along with everyone else in my class, and I exhaled only when Bishop James McNulty of Paterson pointed at me and said, “Say the Lord’s Prayer.”
Piece of cake!
By the time my son was confirmed, the Vatican Council had met and the Church had changed many of its practices.
Bishop George W. Ahr of Trenton did ask questions, but they weren’t out of a catechism.
For example, he asked my son, “How do you think your life will change once you have received the sacrament of confirmation?”
And my son responded, “I won’t have to go to Sunday school anymore.”
My son got a laugh from the bishop and the congregation—and he was confirmed—but he had touched on an important point, the fact that growing in our Catholic faith, deepening our relationship with God, is a lifetime process, not something that ends when we are 15.
It’s common in the supercharged atmosphere of 21st century American life for folks to neglect their spiritual lives once their formal religious education has ended.
For those of us who continue to practice the faith in the sense of going to Sunday Mass, there may be more habit than halleluiah in the experience.
Even for those of us who do more than attend Mass regularly, who participate in parish ministries, the possibilities of deepening our relationship with God and with each other are endless.
Whichever category we fall into, we can take things to the next level—as though you haven’t heard that phrase often enough—by adopting the spirit of the Year of Faith that began this month, observing both the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Dioceses and parishes around the world have plans in place to make this year, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, meaningful in the lives of Catholics.
Besides the special classes, workshops, exhibits, lectures, and liturgies that may be offered, there are opportunities that are in place every year—joining a small Christian community or prayer group, learning about and practicing the Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina, identifying and addressing an issue of social justice among fellow parishioners or in the community outside the doors of the church.
The Year of Faith can refresh our faith, reminding us that whatever our confirmation was like, it was never meant to be an end. It was only the beginning.

Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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