Monday, November 13, 2006

So -- when does this "right judgment" gift kick in?

Some quick background: Youngest Son received the Sacrament of Confirmation Saturday morning. As I understand it (and my understanding is quite limited, thank you) Catholics believe that, in the sacrament, a young person on the threshold of adulthood receives a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, strengthening the young person's bond to Christ and His Church. The young person also receives also the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, and the spirit of holy fear in God's presence.

It's that gift of right judgment in which I'm most interested: All teenagers need it (we can talk about adults another time) -- but this gift too often lies unopened and unappreciated -- like spiritual socks and underwear. Who wants Right Judgment as a gift if you can get Playstation 3?


I was late arriving for the ceremony, of course, far later than the 9:45 am deadline that I'd been given at the rehearsal on Wednesday. But I got down the aisle ahead of the Bishop. I even had time to greet my mother-in-law, who was sitting with Younger Daughter and Middle Son in a pew as close as possible to where the rest of us were obliged to be. And the confirmandi had not even begun their procession as I came in. They were, however, trying to stay in line and good order in the vestibule.

For a 13 year-old, standing still is like trying to split the atom with scissors.

But they all looked nice, all in their red gowns, except for the color just like the robes worn by the Hogwarts students in Harry Potter. Instead of crests for Slytherin or Gryffindor, though, they wore name tags, tags showing the names they had chosen for themselves as part of the ritual.

The gowns, however nice they looked, are a sad commentary on the fashions of the day: We began using the gowns because kids -- and their parents -- can not really be trusted to come to church dressed appropriately. Oldest Son was contemptuous. "At least they didn't make me wear a dress," he harrumphed.

Oldest Son was dressed in suit and tie; if he was feeling any ill effects after being out until 2:30 or so in the morning, he did not show them. His friend -- the kid who drove him to Chicago (thankfully they took cabs on their nocturnal rounds) -- was still sleeping in our basement. Oldest Son beat me to the pew only because I dropped him off before looking for a place to park. "I'm just the father," I told him. "They don't care whether I show up or not. But you're the sponsor. You're required."

Confirmation is like Baptism by choice: Parents choose a child's name for Baptism, but the child chooses a new name at Confirmation. Parents choose the child's Godparents, but the child chooses a sponsor for Confirmation. And because these young people are supposed to be making a conscious decision to become full-fledged members of the Church, they're supposed to have studied up on all this... and, at rehearsal, Wednesday night, the teachers hinted darkly that the Bishop might have a few questions for them before letting them be confirmed.

After the Gospel reading, the pastor called the names of each of the confirmandi. They stood and faced the congregation, each in turn. When they had all been introduced, the pastor recommended them to the Bishop as worthy candidates for the sacrement, and we were invited to show, by our applause, our assent.

But the Bishop said he wasn't entirely certain -- and the worst fears conjured by the teachers a couple of nights before began to take shape in the minds of the confirmandi... particularly when the Bishop walked down from the altar into the nave of the church. Wireless mikes allow a lot of freedom of movement. And it would be easier, the Bishop said, to walk around the aisles so that he could ask his questions.

He paused. "Isn't that amazing?" he asked. "As soon as I mention I'm going to ask questions, all I see are the tops of peoples' heads. There must be something seriously interesting on the floor...." (The confirmandi respond with nervous laughter, but most don't yet look up.)

"OK," the Bishop said, "I'll make it easy on you." (A couple of heads look up tentatively.) "I'll just ask one question. And if you get it right, I'll be done -- but if you get it wrong, we'll just have to ask a whole lot more questions. We'll be here to 3:00 pm at least." (All the heads are now back looking straight down at the floor.)

"Look at the altar," the Bishop commanded, and the kids' heads, reluctantly, came up and looked. Look at your pastor, he said, look at the two other priests assigned to the parish. "Look at them carefully," he warned, walking down the aisle away from the altar. "Here, I'll move back so you all have a good look."

He paused for a moment or two -- although it must have seemed an eternity to the kids. "Alright, have you all looked? Then here's my question... Don't I look much younger than any of those guys?"


We could have stood in line to have our photo taken with the Bishop after Mass, but Oldest Son was anxious to get back to school: The Notre Dame - Air Force game was not even shown on broadcast or cable television in the Chicago market, and Oldest Son wanted to get back to South Bend so he could watch the game in some tavern that had a satellite dish. And we had left his friend alone in our house. So we left as soon as we could and I dropped Oldest Son off at home before going on to the restaurant. "I don't need to wear the suit to lunch, do I Dad?" he'd asked. No, I told him, he'd done his duty -- and, besides, this way I'd recover the shirt he'd borrowed.

So there we were at the restaurant, all present and accounted for except Older Daughter who wanted to come... but has no car and could not make the trip up from Indianapolis. We'll see her at some point Thanksgiving weekend. And Youngest Son was turned away from me, tie askew, shirt untucked, trying to watch the football game being shown on the TV over the bar. Younger Daughter made a big deal out of ordering a virgin strawberry daiquiri, just to aggravate my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law took the bait of course. Middle Son was on his good behavior, although he'd be on his cell phone the moment we got back to the house, pleading for the friend who'd dropped him off in the morning to come and take him back to school. Oldest Son and his friend were polite company, although the slow service was trying Oldest Son's patience: He was constantly updating his calculations on when he'd return to South Bend.

Long Suffering Spouse had a glass of zinfandel and I had my martini and we looked at the domestic scene before us... and it was very, very pleasant.

But when will this gift of "right judgment" kick in? For any of us?


Jean-Luc Picard said...

The Bishop has a real sense of humour! Glad it all went well.

Mother Jones RN said...

So did the kids answer the Bishop's question correctly:-)

Sounds like you had a pleasant weekend, and it sounds like you have a nice relationship with your mother-in-law. Lucky man.


cmhl said...

that sounds like a great day--- too bad your daughter couldn't get a ride to come..

and I had to giggle @ the slytherin patch comment!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if the gift of right judgement will ever kick in, for any of us, though Chris swears my judgement calls are usually right on...but it's not quite the same thing.
Wish there were easier answers to some of the philosophical questions of life...

Anonymous said...

What a great story.. you described it so well I could picture it all. When I was confirmed I sure didn't have a cool bishop! Congratulations to you and wifey.. you've passed another milestone intact.