Urgent Pastoral Concern for our Kids

A common reaction to the concept of the restored order is a fear that many of our children will fall away from the faith if we lower the age of Confirmation.  This is a legitimate, heart-felt concern for our kids, but a clear-eyed view of the current state of the pastoral situation shows the opposite is true. In fact, we have a significant problem now with children falling away before they reach Confirmation age.

Consider these surprising facts:

- 77% of fallen away Catholics were never confirmed

- 13 is the average age that fallen away Catholics abandoned the practice of the faith

- 80% of fallen away Catholics left by age 18

We clearly have a serious problem with kids leaving the faith before their 8th grade Confirmation.  What might have happened if these kids had received the grace of Confirmation to strengthen the seal of their baptismal commitment?  We will never know. 

Further, for those kids who do receive Confirmation, does their lived experience make them less receptive to the graces of the sacrament of Confirmation by the time they are in their teenage years?  The fact that most fallen away Catholics leave the Church within the first few years after Confirmation is one sure sign. But there is more evidence to support this concern as well.

Heightened Need for Confirmation at Younger Ages

Research into the social and psychological changes in the life of today’s children shows that our kids have a heightened need for the grace of Confirmation at a younger age because they face increasing obstacles to grace by the time they reach their teen years.  Today’s kids are growing up in a dramatically different world than any prior generation.

To start with, according to Pew Research, 95% of teens use smartphones and 45% of teens are online “almost constantly.”1 It’s hard to over-state the effects of this dramatic change in the lives of children.  There is growing research showing the negative effects this is having psychologically, even to the point of literally altering the brain2. There is also increasing evidence of the negative social effects.

Below are just a few examples of some concerning facts:

- Cyberbullying: 47% of teens have been cyberbullied, and 71% are concerned about it.

- Pornography: a shocking 97% of boys have viewed pornography online and 23% have tried to stop but couldn’t (i.e. they are effectively addicted), and the average age of first exposure is age 11

- Depression and Suicide: 20% of teens have experienced depression and 17% have contemplated suicide

While hard to stomach for any parent, grandparent, educator, or minister, we must confront the reality that our kids are sailing through highly hostile waters by the time they reach their teenage years.  Times have changed, and our kids are facing more serious challenges at far younger ages than past generations. 

Effects of Confirmation

Against this backdrop, consider what the Catechism describes as the effects of Confirmation:

- it unites us more firmly to Christ

- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us

- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect

- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross (CCC 1303)

Deferring Confirmation until kids are deep into the turbulent seas of an invasive technology and social media world deprives them of the grace of the Holy Spirit that helps to strengthen them in advance of these struggles.

Receptivity (or lack thereof) to the Effects of Confirmation

Ironically, one common concern about restored order is that third graders aren’t mature enough to receive the sacrament.  It is true that an individual must be properly disposed for sacramental grace to be fruitful in their life. The catechism teaches: “…the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God…Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.” (CCC 1128)

But this consideration only reinforces the urgency of offering the sacrament of Confirmation before children are exposed to an environment that increasingly hardens them against receptivity to sacramental grace.

Consider what St. Thomas Aquinas identifies as the three primary obstacles to grace (STL III 66-68):  

- Lack of faith/insincerity

- Lack of repentance

- Presence of demons

Given the experience of our teens in the social media, technology invasive world outlined above, who is more likely to be lacking in faith, sincerity and/or repentance—a third-grader or an eighth grader?  Who is more likely to have been extensively exposed to the presence of evil?

The unfortunate truth is that we have an urgent need to confirm our kids at a younger age, both so they are better equipped to face the challenges ahead and so they are properly disposed for the grace of Confirmation to have lasting fruitfulness throughout their lives.

 

1. https://www.geekwire.com/2018/new-research-finds-95-teens-access-smartphone-45-online-almost-constantly/

2. https://www.businessinsider.com/what-your-smartphone-is-doing-to-your-brain-and-it-isnt-good-2018-3 http://www.uclep.be/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Pub/Billieux_CPR_2012.pdf

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