The Confirmation Season undoubtedly brings a great deal of joy to many families, as children go through this rite of passage, finally receiving the Sacrament of the Altar alongside their parents. Indeed, Palm Sunday this year was, for me, easily one of the happiest days of life, as I admittedly wiped a tear or two, watching my son confess his faith before God, our pastors, and the congregation; it was a time of enormous thanksgiving, as we gave thanks to God for the faith He had given my son and the other confirmands, and a time of reflection, as I considered the road that had brought us to that moment.
Years of work went in to preparing him to receive the Supper—countless hours of memory work, study, sermon reports, etc, and now we’re done. Right?
This is the trouble. It’s all too easy to see confirmation as a graduation — not from the catechumen to the communicant, but from the catechumen to the emancipated. In many ways, confirmation can be like the end of the school year, when everyone moves into a summer of intentions, only to fall victim to the unstructured days, requiring little of us than a promise to attend to our goals tomorrow. We often have many good intentions regarding the catechetical life of our children, but it’s so easy for these intentions to become crowded with the demands of life, and, well, if we miss today, there is always the next time.
But, as C.S. Lewis so wisely notes in Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” These are the days, weeks, and months, where the gradual slope is so much more alluring, as now we’re freed from the structure of confirmation classes.
The joy of confirmation is so easily tainted by a nascent fear that our child will become another statistic, another one who graduated from church, like so many children obviously do. I wonder if, in ten years, he’ll still cling to that faith he jubilantly confessed, or if he’ll give in to the temptations that will be undoubtedly arrayed before him. This sort of anxiety can drive us to near despair, even paganistic heights of fatalism mixed with superstition, as we wonder what appropriate sacrifices we can make to ensure our children remain in the faith.
While I do not pretend to know what the future holds, I do know God has given us all means to keep us in the one true faith — means that are not new, shiny, or particularly spectacular, but as simple as a bit of water, bread, wine, and His Word. In addition to engraining in my son the content of the catechism, I have also tried to instill in him an understanding that confirmation isn’t a graduation. At least not in the sense of the completion of a task, but rather it’s a commencement, the first step in the journey of a communicant Christian. This is the road of unknown trials, temptations and inevitable failures lay ahead, in which the devil and sinful flesh conspire to keep all Christians away from God’s Word of law and gospel, away from the fellowship of other Christians and most definitely away from the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation that are freely granted at the rail.
By preparing our children to receive these gifts, laboring to ensure they have the tools to remain at peace with God, we have guaranteed they will always remain at enmity with the devil.
The weeks and years following confirmation are not the time to assume our children know what they need, and all is well. Rather it is a time of even more ardent striving against the world, the devil and our flesh. It is a new era of study, reflection and conversation with our children. It is a new opportunity to carry on in our vocations, preparing them for the road ahead. Just as we do not stop learning when we leave school or stop bringing them to church once they have received the Lord’s Supper, we do not cease to study the Scriptures and the catechism with them regularly, simply because a goal has been reached.
Our children will always need to know that we love them, care for them and forgive them, whether we’ve told them this once or a thousand times. Similarly, they will always need to hear of our Lord’s love for them, given to them in the Divine Service. This is a dangerous road, but our children do not walk it alone — they walk it with the rest of the believers in Christ, as part of the church militant. They are not unprotected. Our Lord has given them all they need to support this body and life; it is our sacred task to show them that though they walk in a world full of devils, the Kingdom theirs remains.