Almighty God, you called St. John Neumann to a life of service, zeal and compassion for the guidance of your people in the new world. By his prayers help us to build up the community of the Church through our dedication to the Christian education of youth and through the witness of our brotherly love. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
St. John Neumann was the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and a great promoter of parochial education. He knew that the future strength of the Church depended on the proper faith formation of the youth. Unfortunately, the zeal for catechesis has waned in recent decades. Catholic schools are closing and religious education programs are struggling. A large number of our Catholic youth never complete the three Sacraments of Initiation. While most receive Baptism and First Communion, the Sacrament of Confirmation lags behind.
As a seventh grade catechist I do Confirmation preparation. About one third of my students attend Mass regularly and have received a solid education in their faith at home. Another third of my students attend Mass occasionally but their families have no interaction with the Church outside of Mass. Catholicism seems largely irrelevant to them. The final third of my students rarely attend Mass. They may go to Mass on Christmas and Easter. Several have expressed open hostility to the Church.
The grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation is for each of these groups of students. Certainly, the better prepared students are better able to cooperate with the grace of the Sacrament. The second group is still open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a spark of faith that can be fanned into a flame. It is tempting to throw up my hands and give up on the third group of students. Yet these children need the grace of Confirmation more than the others. It will only be by such grace that they will find Christ. They are floundering and trying to steady themselves with material pleasures. Sex, power, and wealth are their gods. Every single one of these thirteen-year-olds has a cell phone. Several have iPhones and Blackberries. They have never known want for any material good.
Tonight I asked for the intercession of St. John Neumann as I taught my class. It is vital for the souls of these children that they receive a solid Catholic education. Yet my little hourly session every week seems woefully inadequate. But then I think about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. I will give this hour to Christ and trust him to multiply it enough that it satisfies the well-catechized, the lukewarm Catholics, and those who resist or reject the Church.