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home : opinion : perspectives

1/5/2012 10:30:00 AM
TEEN FAITH
Fishing for answers
BY BERNADETTE BONANNO


Over the past 20 years, I've been a catechist for many grade levels of faith formation. The one I most enjoy is confirmation, because the students are juniors in high school. As everyone knows, you can't fool a teenager when it comes to sharing your faith, and I like the challenge.

I've learned that, as far as teenage faith goes, questions far outnumber convictions. If I can't abide this, my effectiveness as a catechist is dead in the water. So, I acknowledge their tendency to question and assure them that most people - including myself - have a long list of questions, as well.

Five years ago, our parish changed the confirmation program and began requiring the sponsor to attend classes with the teenage candidate. I was thrilled and envisioned enthusiastic adults ready to share their faith with the young people.

However, upon entering the classroom, I found everyone sitting silently in their chairs with their coats on. This is never a good sign. Unless the classroom is chilly, coats left on means, "We can't wait to leave."

I looked at the faces before me, both adults and teens, and the only thing I could think of to say was, "You guys look like you are in a dentist office waiting for root canals."

No one laughed. Attempting to buoy the mood, I started the class as I usually do by complimenting the young people for showing up; then I suggested they decide whether or not they wanted to receive the sacrament of confirmation, because it's a big deal to make a commitment to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

I encouraged the teens to see themselves as disciples of Christ - always a stretch, because most people do not see themselves as faith-filled, let alone worthy of discipleship.

I proposed that God is not partial to a person's age, gender, education level or profession when calling disciples to bring His love to the world.

With blank faces staring back at me, I knew I was failing miserably, so I did what I always do when I don't know what to do: I went for a walk. It was a five-second walk around my chair, as I silently and humbly pleaded with God to send some help.

Suddenly, this idea popped into my head. I have since coined it "my no-fail, first-class ice-breaker," because each year the reaction is unmistakably divine.

I inquired, "Has anyone seen the movie 'The Perfect Storm?'" Half the class had. For the ones who had not, I offered a quick summary: "The Perfect Storm" is a true story about a crew of six fishermen off Gloucester, Mass., who encountered a collision of three storms and lost their lives at sea. The movie examines the lives of fishermen who risk their lives every day, working at the most dangerous job in America.

I asked those who had seen the movie to describe the fishermen. They replied, "Tough guys, risk-takers, fiercely loyal, hard-working, shaggy, hang-out-in-a-bar guys, uneducated, brave."

I asked if any of the women who saw the movie would get on an elevator alone with one of them. I received a unanimous, "No way."

I asked, "Has the ocean or making a living as a commercial fisherman changed since Jesus walked the earth?"

I continued, "When Jesus decided to begin His public ministry and reveal that He was the Son of God, He chose 12 disciples. Carefully selecting from all the people who lived on the earth, who were the first four guys Jesus chose to help Him bring His love to the world?"

With a little prompting, they came up with the names Peter, Andrew, James and John. I asked, "What was their profession?"

The room filled with smiles as they murmured, "commercial fishermen."

(Bernadette Bonanno attends St. Mary's parish in Albany.)

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