By Sarah Mac Donald - 22 January, 2015
Confirmation often appears like a “pre-fabricated cultural package of Irish heritage we are born into" to be discarded later in life as part of our throwaway culture.
Launching Catholic Schools Week in the diocese of Limerick on Wednesday, Bishop Brendan Leahy suggested that Confirmation should be postponed until students are at least sixteen years old.
Speaking at the Woodlands Hotel in Adare, the Bishop of Limerick asked, “Is twelve years of age too young? Are the boys and girls really aware of what’s going on?”
In his address to representatives of parents, teachers and students he asked, “Are children opting or floating into Confirmation?” and he also asked if Confirmation is “too detached from the experience of a living Christian community of faith?”
Dr Leahy said it is important in Ireland that “we re-awaken students to the fact that being a Catholic is an option”.
“While we can be grateful for so much support for Catholic schools in Ireland and the fact that so many still declare themselves Catholic, we have also to acknowledge that faith can perhaps imperceptibly but nevertheless really be enveloped by a crust of indifference.”
He warned that the result can be that the institutional transmission of faith occurs through practices that in themselves are wonderful but in reality “risk immunising young people from the faith”.
“We can have wonderful sacramental ceremonies but the child finds little resonance between that and what is going on in his/her everyday life at home.”
As a result, the child, instead of coming to know Catholic faith as a new, challenging and meaningful horizon that can be opted into, often sees it as a “pre-fabricated cultural package of Irish heritage we are born into and to be discarded nonchalantly later in life as part of our throwaway culture.”
Describing himself as “really impressed by the level of ceremonies, the care to detail, the level of preparation” he sees in confirmations around the diocese, Bishop Leahy asked if the current practice offers the best model of interaction between child, parish, school and family?
“We should build on a good pastoral opportunity that exists in Ireland. It is still a positive thing that parents and family members will make the effort to be present for the Confirmation Day.”
“Might we not avail of the fact that Confirmation is still viewed as an important ritual and invite 16 year olds to celebrate the sacrament?” he pondered.
For many students, that would mean committing themselves to a parish-based programme during Transition Year, possibly linked to a project in school, the bishop suggested.
He added that not all students would opt into it. But some/many would and at least it would come as an option with also a more living “adult” contact with the parish.
He also underlined that removing Confirmation from the primary school would not mean less religious education
Speaking about the contribution of Catholic Schools, Bishop Leahy said the particular service to which Catholic schools are called today is to promote more profoundly and more strategically the vitality of the religious ethos in their school both in relation to the quality of formal religious education programmes and the religious education provided by the whole culture and life of the school.
“We need, all of us, to reflect on how best to ensure the effectiveness of the religious culture of our Catholic Schools for our times. And we can’t leave it only to the schools to do that.”
He highlighted that Catholic schools today are located within a vast variety of cultural traditions, family arrangements, moral views and convictions.
“We need to explore what’s going on in that change. It’s not all bad. We have to be careful not to give in to a superficial description of decline in religious practice simply in terms of waywardness, bad will or rejection of Church authority.”
“In reality, we are in the process of a major social and cultural transformation. One era of Christian history has concluded and a new one is opening up.”
However, he admitted that historical baggage has left people perhaps a little reticent about the value of Catholic Schools.
“In a lot of popular narrative, whether it be in film or in literature, the images of Catholic schools prior to the Second Vatican Council are certainly not flattering.”
“It is true that strict discipline and rote learning were characteristics of schooling in general in the past. Sometimes contemporary commentators with memories of their own schooling equate catholic schools with a rather narrow vision, closure to otherness, indoctrination and a certain intolerance.”
In acknowledging the limitations and failures of the past, the Bishop urged people to be careful not to have a baby and bathwater situation.
“There is much that was and is great about catholic schools in Limerick. It’s enough to think of the vast number of teachers and students involved in education,” he said.
He added that it was striking to note how much volunteer effort there is linked to Catholic schools. “Currently there are 864 members of our Primary School Boards of Management. The good will and generosity are really inspiring.”
“We need to acknowledge gratefully the variety of subjects offered, the range of extra-curricular activities, the promotion of culture and sport, etc. that goes on in Catholic schools.”
“These schools are helping shape the young people of today into the adults and, indeed, leaders of tomorrow through social and civic instruction.”
“Catholics Schools Week offers us each year an opportunity to acknowledge, celebrate and become more aware of the unique contribution of Catholic schools.”
“Our Catholic Schools in Limerick (108 primary schools and 27 second level schools) are part of a network of 210.000 catholic schools worldwide serving young people in a vast variety of contexts in our world.”
Bishop Leahy also said he was pleased about the development of a new education campus at Galvone which will see the colocation of two schools with a child and family centre, working in partnership, sharing facilities and resources.