||I read somewhere in one of your replies that you are or were a DRE. Our pastor feels strongly that all homeschooled children must go through the parish's program for Confirmation preparation. It requires 2 years of involvement (9th-10th grade) in the Life Teen program. We have not been impressed with what we've heard or seen about Life Teen for various reasons. One of those reasons is that we would be subjecting our daughter to inappropriate discussions, led by adult volunteers who share a different philosophy about what we need to teach our teens to keep them chaste. And, we have raised our children with a beautiful courtship vs. recreational dating philosophy, which is very different from what most, if not all, of the other teens in this program know. Our pastor believes homeschooled children need this information and this type of community experience. My husband and I disagree, however, we don't want to be defiant toward our priestly authority. In addition, we find much support in a section of the Catechism entitled "duties of the parents." There are a few other homeschool families who have done as Father has instructed, but the results we've seen have been discouraging. There are many homeschool families in our parish with children younger than our oldest child, so how we handle this is important to others who will be following. Do you have any suggestions on how we should go about this issue so that our daughter can receive the sacrament of Confirmation?
Thank you for this question. This arena has the potential to cause the greatest debate and upset in the lives of families. I am grateful for the opportunity to give you my feelings upon this matter. Let us begin.
First and foremost the most important fact that we must agree upon is that parents carry the ultimate responsibility with regards to the education (religious or otherwise) of our children. This responsibility was entrusted to us at the moment of conception by the Creator, the Lord God, to Whom we answer for the worth of our efforts with regard to our children. I believe this with all my heart.
As a citizen I have equally strong feelings with regard to the care of my children and my rights under the protection of the law. However I understand that there are times when unfortunately these two situations though similar may not be the same. In other words it is not illegal for me to deny my children a religious experience or religious education and vice versa the state can not force me to include such in my upbringing of my children. The authority of the Church is sometimes outside the realm of the secular in regards to religious upbringing.
For example, I can not go to the state and argue that as a homeschooler I am entitled to receive the Sacraments whether or not I fully agree or attend the programs offered through my parish. That said I think it is reasonable to state that the vast majority of Catholic homeschoolers would not and care not to involve governments, officials and legal maneuvering in order to impart a religious education to their children and give them the opportunity to receive the Sacraments. The General Directory for Catechesis is a document which endorses the parents' fundamental right to educate their children. It is comforting to read that this right is not only a legal right but an endowed right from the Lord.
Where do we go then when we are faced with the challenges that you describe? I am greatly encouraged by your holy and pure witness to 'fight this battle' worthily so as to set a good example and pave the way for parents that must follow along this path. Your witness gives me courage and I am uplifted by your witness.
I am currently the DRE of our parish. (It was a position that I resigned from early in the school year but the parents and the teachers asked that I come back for a time to straighten out some curves.) I always felt that role was facilitator or partner to the work of the parents. I wanted to make their task easier and support them in their role as primary educator to their children. I taught the Confirmation class for the two year preparation that is necessary. This was indeed an eye-opening experience. My own daughter was part of the Confirmation class and I found myself playing two roles and at times it was not pleasant.
Early on it was quite clear that the children in the class who had been attending public school had a very secular and 'public' view of the world. However there were some in the class that though they attended the public middle school were innocent and relatively sheltered from many of the facts that were raised in discussions. Then there was my daughter. Her background was totally void of the type of information that was brought up by some of the students. In my desire to present a very holy and pure response to the questions that some of the children were raising I had to be very precise in my replies and let my responses (and physical affect) show that this was a serious issue and that I would not allow the group to venture into areas that would not be correct or holy. Understand that my daughter does not watch network or cable television, for we do not have this in our home but the vast majority of the children in the class regularly watched programs that hint at sexual behavior which is negative. Some of the children in the class came from backgrounds that included divorce or had older brothers and sisters who had had children outside the Sacrament of Marriage. Some of the children had been exposed to situations in their life that were quite disturbing and far from the norm. I viewed all of this and regarded the fact that they were in this class as a blessing. All children need to know the truth. It is our responsibility to present the truth and firm up the foundation of the Lord's desire to embrace our children and heal all that is hurting. The only way to combat falsehood is with truth.
Any time that our children venture into the world we are going to expose them to differences, these will be opportunities for discussion. Each afternoon my daughter and I would sit quietly after the class and talk about the differences that she heard. Many times the only reassurance that was required was that 'it was okay if she did not like to wear makeup or wouldn't want to date boys'. I wanted her to feel good about her choices in life and it was important to me that she see some of the behaviors that were contrary to holiness as just that. She did. I was grateful and credit our Catholic homeschooling and my freedom to educate with regard to our family's religious priorities. In the same respect the older children of mine who attended public school were quite the same in their beliefs and continue to strive to be holy people and good Catholics. This is not to say that they have not had bumps in the road but they are striving to stay on the path. I trust that my homeschooled children will experience the same challenges. The foundation must be set before one can build further.
Look at the materials that are used with a critical eye. Ask yourself some questions. Does the information included support the teachings of the Church with regard to responsibility and holiness? For example when dating is discussed how is it approached? This of course is an issue for many young people whether or not they are actively dating. The 6th commandment is not merely about adultery, it involves a very serious discussion about the temptations against purity. It is important that this information be given to the children in a clear manner so as not to cause confusion. When I was teaching faith formation I many times was the only person the children heard discuss this issue from an angle of protecting their innocence. For you see all that they had seen in school, on television or read had said quite the opposite.
Why do we start so young to bring up these issues? I believe that we want to ensure that a worthy, strong, and holy foundation is laid before the Tempter has the opportunity to misshape the foundation with his lies and temptations.
If after careful examination you decide that your child can attend the classes then it is vital that you have the freedom to attend the classes as well. I encouraged the parents to come to class with their children. If at anytime you hear something that is contrary to truth it is your responsibility to bring this up to the DRE. If you are given a message that does not wholeheartedly invite you into this experience then that would be a red flag for me. You may find that your daughter can stand on her own in this arena and prefers that you let her do so. This is a big step and one that bears much prayer. My daughter's younger sister is in Confirmation prep now and I am not the teacher. I have listened in on the discussions and I know the material and I trust the teacher. There have been some discussions about dating etc. however the teacher is truly centered, holy and keeps the class on track as far as teachings and truth.
If you decide that you do not care to enroll your child in the faith formation program at your church then this is your right as their parent. There may be some conflicts involved in your choice but I think it is best to rest in the knowledge that the Sacraments are a free gift of the Lord to us. Certainly the better informed and prepared we are to receive these gifts then it stands to reason the better we will fulfill our responsibility once we have been given the gift. This education can be accomplished through the home with prudent and holy instruction and priests, teachers, and others must allow this of the parents. Certainly in the interest of the reception of the Sacraments it is vital that the priest as the shepherd of the flock has a method of ensuring that the parents have fulfilled this responsibility.
The greatest sorrow that has befallen me as the teacher in the Confirmation Class and the DRE of our parish is the knowledge that once some of the students receive the Sacrament of Confirmation (which some see as merely a right of passage) they do not attend church at all or at least irregularly. Young people are not able to drive themselves to church and because they are still children at heart they look to their parents for support. If that support is lacking then after the day of Confirmation they do not or are not able to fulfill the responsibility they promised to fulfill. What a sad message this is sending to the pure and holy heart that stepped forward to say 'I do'. Our parish priest often said that the greatest form of unchecked child abuse is the neglect of a child's soul with regard to religious upbringing and education.
After you have thoroughly examined the materials that the Confirmation class will be using make an appointment with your DRE or the Confirmation teacher. Speak candidly with them about concerns, goals, and personal feelings. Listen to their input and form your opinions based upon knowledge not hearsay. If they are not agreeable to such a meeting this is a red flag and should be treated as such. There are times as I journey through parenting that I realize with clarity that some of the best days were the days of nursing the baby. The issues were little and the challenges were too. Little kids little problems, bigger kids bigger problems. Stay close to the Lord, pray for the intercession and guidance of the Holy Spirit, go forward with confidence, rest in the Lord's care as His dear little one, and make your choices based upon prayer and the empowerment that Jesus desires to give.
Our God is not confusing. He requires that we talk to one another and work through our differences. This is the most holy and pure of witnesses. It is also the most difficult challenge we face as adult Catholics in our parishes. Our children are watching how we handle disagreements within our church family. Our example will set the tone for their behavior in years to come. They will see the method we use to work through challenges and they will only know this method. Their church family is the only family that they have by choice. In other words they chose the Catholic faith. Jesus spent a great deal of His public ministry teaching us how to work through 'people issues'. Praise Him for His love.
I admire you and am truly blest that you have written. Your witness has indeed given me added courage. Thank you. I might add that your centered and calm approach will allow you to be a great spokesperson for the homeschooling community. Many times this community is misread and unfairly judged as prudish or misinformed.
Let us pray together a Hail Mary for the intentions of all confirmandi. O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Amen.
Sending out a prayer,