The first time I saw it, I could barely believe my eyes: “85% of kids who get confirmed will leave the Church within 7 years of their Confirmation.” My initial reaction was to question the credibility of this statistic, but upon further reflection I had to admit that my own observations validate it.
Still, the full impact of this reality didn’t hit home for me until I came upon a Facebook post in which a young woman whom I will call “Darcy” identified herself as “one of those who left the Church within 7 years of Confirmation.” Darcy was a real person; not just a statistic. She wrote some unsettling things in her post including her belief that: religion is a set of “morality guidelines” that were relevant up to about 400 years ago; that science has replaced religion among today’s youth and that it explains “with evidence… things previously attributed to God’s decisions”; that God “may have started [everything] but left us alone so ritual praying is useless”; that answered prayers are a fiction; that she has never prayed for anything because she “doubted that it would work”.
These statements reveal a lot of misconceptions, to wit: religion is primarily about morality; that the Church is opposed to science and that the latter contradicts the former; that prayer is only about asking favors from God, and; most disturbing or all that God must have gotten bored after the Big Bang and went on to a more interesting project.
How is it possible that this young person could have gone through Confirmation preparation without someone passionately sharing how much God loves her; that God “carved her in the palm of his hand” and that she “is precious in his sight”? How is it possible that no one ever told her the story of his or her own personal awakening to God’s intimate love and acceptance? I hate to say it, but I think I know the answer to that, because I have participated in it. I have been guilty of “teaching” our faith like it is an academic subject analogous Calculus; of rattling off an Our Father rather than modeling a spontaneous prayer of praise and love; of talking about service in terms of “requirements” rather than a way of life. It’s no wonder they couldn’t wait to get confirmed and “graduate” from the Church.
Now let me tell you about a second young woman, whom I will call “Jeanne”. Jeanne was baptized as an infant, but did not have the benefit of any subsequent faith formation. Her mother never took her to church. Her alcoholic father abandoned her family. She was neither confirmed nor received the Eucharist. BUT… her grandmother was joyful and enthused about her faith. She was and continues to be active in her parish. She is constantly telling Jeanne about how much God has loved her and remained with her throughout her life. She has shared her own reciprocal love for God. This young, single woman can’t wait to learn more. Now that she is on her own and making her own decisions, she has asked for the other sacraments of initiation. She wants what her grandmother has. When I told her that my goal was for her to fall deeply in love with Jesus, Jeanne enthusiastically stated: “That’s exactly what I want.”
So, there is Darcy and there’s Jeanne. Two young women. Both represent the future. Which will it be?