We as parents know best when it comes to educating them, despite what our children may think of our wisdom. Having lived on our own for several years and being in the job market, we know the challenges of landing a good job and what it takes to earn a decent living in this world. Our experience tells us that the best way for our children to be ready for leaving the nest is in getting the best possible education and giving them the tools necessary to be ready for the challenges they will face once they leave school. No loving parent, Catholic or not, would deliberately send their children out into the world unprepared.
As faithful Catholics we have our children baptized, then later, at the age of reason we begin to prepare them and enroll them in a CCD program that teaches them about the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation, readying them for the reception of these sacraments. The sacrament of Confirmation however, is delayed in many parishes until their high school years and the choice is placed squarely on our children's shoulders as to whether or not they want to receive Confirmation if they don't feel ready, allowing them the choice to opt out. This is tantamount to sending our children out into the world unprepared, unarmed and without the tools necessary to face the challenges of living a Catholic life.
Again, as Catholic parents, we know what we face in the world because of our Faith, and though some our children may have some inkling of the spiritual dangers they themselves may face, reality is, many children do not and are not prepared. We are constantly barraged with reminders by educators that our children today face more dangers than we did when we were their age. Our children, we are told, are fed daily with the "Sex, drugs and rock n' roll" mentality that has held our society in it's grip, along with the the denial of God's existence and all that it encompasses.
How do we expect our children to defend their faith and protect their souls against the godlessness that is waiting for them without giving them the proper tools necessary? Is delaying Confirmation and letting them make the decision of whether to receive it or not, a wise choice by parents and our bishops? If we believe our children are not mature enough to make a choice about continuing their education then why do we think they have the spiritual maturity it takes to make the choice of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation (or not) that provides the good and necessary gifts and graces to help them stand fast in their Faith, especially making this important decision at an age where faith for many of them, is not a very high priority in their lives?
Here are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Confirmation:
- Wisdom - desire for the things of God, and to direct our whole life and all our actions to His honor and glory
- Understanding - enable us to know more clearly the mysteries of faith
- Counsel - warn us of the deceits of the devil, and of the dangers to salvation
- Fortitude - strengthen us to do the will of God in all things
- Knowledge - enable us to discover the will of God in all things
- Piety - love God as a Father, and obey Him because we love Him
- Fear of the Lord - have a dread of sin and fear of offending God
We are taught that the sacraments are gifts freely given by the Holy Spirit, but we make demands on our children when it comes to Confirmation. I know in my parish we tell children they have to attend retreats, work at soup kitchens etc, in order to be confirmed. As soon as we place conditions on a gift, it is no longer a gift. It becomes a matter of merit and Confirmation is the badge received for doing something. We give our children the message that they have to earn grace and that is the farthest thing from the Truth. Grace is not merited. Yes, there are requirements made of parents in order for them to have their children baptized and the baptism is offered through the faith of both the parents and the Church. Confirmation should also be received in this manner.
Having been a CCD teacher for over a decade, I have heard some of the reasons why the children that do choose to receive the sacrament decide to be confirmed. The best reason I heard at the time from a student was that she wanted to strengthen, defend and increase her faith in God. That was certainly heartening to hear, but at the same time I heard these other reasons: "Grandma wants me to", "my parents really think I should, why? I dunno, but they do", and this one, "Well, the other kids are going to so I might as well be confirmed too..." Even though it would be great for them to fully embrace their faith of their own free will and be confirmed, that is rarely the case. They just don't know enough about the importance of this sacrament let alone having to make a decision about it's reception.
I know some argue that faith is personal and it should be their personal choice. Some will also argue that it is better for them to make their own decision to follow their faith when they are good and ready for they will have a better appreciation of their faith and Church. I agree to a certain point, but using the example of academic education earlier, many children do not understand the importance of both education and faith. Both are a low priority in their lives at this age, that is why most of us would not give the choice to our children to opt out of school if they should so choose to; it would be disastrous to do otherwise. And neither should we do the same with the sacrament of Confirmation. Academic education will only be necessary in this short lifespan that we have on earth. The sacrament of Confirmation involves eternity and the salvation of their souls.
Some parishes baptize and confirm children at the same time providing them with the necessary graces for their spiritual life. In the early reception of these sacraments, the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to work within each of their souls in a special way throughout their lives, strengthening them. These children need the sacrament or confirmation long before they enter school and the world, not after.
In case you are wondering, I am a Catholic father of five children, two of which decided against receiving confirmation, and they still have not yet received it. That saddens me a great deal. My responsibility in raising my children in the faith and making sure they receive all the necessary sacraments the Church offers us for our state in life, has been taken from me by not allowing me the choice of having them confirmed. It is a responsibility I take very seriously. I know there are ongoing discussions in some diocese about bringing back the sacrament to an earlier age in a child's life. I think the time for talking is over and actually doing something about it has come. We are doing a great disservice to our children and putting them in grave spiritual danger by delaying their reception of this important sacrament.