Monday, July 15, 2019
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
At the age of 30, I received the sacrament of confirmation.
Yes, you read that correctly. This May, I was a 30-year-old confirmation candidate at Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah. In doing so, I feel like a unicorn, an anomaly among millennials, many of whom have left the Catholic Church, switched faiths, stopped practicing altogether, or chosen the “spiritual but not religious” brand.
I often wonder how people can leave something so rich and fulfilling. I’m sure there are reasons, some more complicated than others. But I have a very hard time understanding how people can abandon their faith altogether.
For those, like myself, who have experienced a sacramental delay in life, I must say I am proud that, whatever the circumstances, we came back to continue our journey as Catholics. With the Holy Spirit now reinforcing us, I hope we will always remain faithful.
I was baptized as an infant and received my first Communion at age 8. After that, a combination of scheduling changes in my parish and extracurricular activities in life and school prevented me from attending confirmation classes. Yet I never stopped going to church, and I never abandoned my faith.
Sure, I complained about going to Mass on Sunday mornings, especially when band rehearsals and competitions ran late on Saturdays. But what child, teen, or adult does not occasionally complain about getting up early to go to Mass?
Ironically, it was during this busy time that I began to understand that our Catholic faith was meant to accompany us and be practiced beyond the walls of the church building, and not just at Mass on Sundays.
As I grew out of my teens, my parents and grandparents reminded me: “You need to be confirmed.” It honestly drove me nuts, and I would often reply, “Sí, sí, soon,” just to keep them quiet until the next time they asked.
When you’re a child, it’s easier, in a way, to go along and follow the sacramental order, because you have a naive, almost superstitious fear not only of God but of your parents. Parents are responsible for introducing their children to the faith, for being present and hands-on in baptism, then committing their kids to religious education classes in preparation for first Communion and finally confirmation. At each step, parents are more removed from the sacramental moments, transitioning from active in ceremonies to mere witnesses.
Being confirmed at my age really felt like I was taking the faith my parents taught me and embracing it as my own.
For confirmation prep, I attended classes Thursday nights with my pastor, Father Manny Alvarez (who has since been named pastor of Little Flower in Coral Gables). We had great class discussions about the Old and New Testaments, the sacraments, the commandments, catechesis and what the Church says about everything. We also touched on controversial topics that challenge our faith daily, from abortion to why priests shouldn’t marry, and more. Not once did Father Manny shy away from answering heated questions. The classes always felt refreshing and reinforcing.
At my confirmation Mass, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino, I was seated in the last row of the “adult candidate” section. In front of us were students from Immaculate’s religious education program and Msgr. Edward Pace High School. While I knew catechists had prepared them, I couldn’t help but wonder if these younger Catholics really knew and valued how special this moment was. How many of them would stick around, and not treat this moment as what some refer to as “the graduation” from the faith? I prayed and hoped that they realized it is now up to them to ensure this is not the end.
As for me, I’m glad we have sponsors at these sacramental moments. While they accompany us, I think they also prevent us from running in the opposite direction of the bishop and priests. I personally had an overwhelmingly emotional moment as I approached the altar, and I started to tear up. When my dad, who served as my proxy because my sponsor-uncle was out of the country, placed his hand on my right shoulder, it provided so much comfort and strength. (I silently prayed that someday, when I get married, I can repeat this moment of approaching the altar with my dad.)
Ahead of me, my big brother was also being confirmed, with my mom acting as his proxy on behalf of my traveling uncle. I had a breathtakingly beautiful view of his moment: Jesus looking down from the cross, a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit above him, Mary also peeking down from all the different moments of her life portrayed in the altar art. Also looking at my brother as he received the Holy Spirit: Bishop Baldacchino, Father Manny, Father Ivan Toledo, and Deacon Manolo Perez, all dressed in red, along with an altar server.
When it was my turn and I approached Bishop Baldacchino, I was enveloped by his jolliness. Because I work with the Florida Catholic newspaper and the communications team at the archdiocese, he’s gotten to know me, so I saw recognition in his eyes. But I also saw something more: a smile and a look of pure, inexplicable joy, perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Later that night, a combination of excitement, relief and a sense of fulfillment kept me from easily falling asleep.
A few days later, a visiting priest at Immaculate spoke about the Holy Spirit in his homily, indirectly providing me with a reason for my restlessness. He said we should ask the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance when we wake in the morning, but never at night, because we might get more energy than we can imagine.