By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Adult Confirmation classes will begin at the end of January in the Diocese of Fall River, and Deacon Bruce Bonneau said that while the age of those seeking the Sacrament may have risen slightly over the years, the motivation of those seeking Confirmation remains the same.
“My whole sense is people are seeking God as they gain more life experience, as they work in a very complicated and chaotic world,” said Deacon Bonneau. “There’s definitely a need and a search for a spiritual life.”
Working in the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Fall River as the assistant director for evangelization and spirituality, Deacon Bonneau stressed that candidates looking to be confirmed in the Catholic faith should be aware that the five-week-long session is only one component of a much larger picture.
“We’re doing the basic teaching of the Catholic faith that they should know,” said Deacon Bonneau. “Their participation in the parish and prayer life is as important, perhaps more important, than the knowledge piece, which is primarily what we focus on.”
That “knowledge piece” is broken up into five, two-hour classes that are hosted at one parish within each of the five deaneries.
“The nice thing about having them at all the deaneries is, they may decide to go to a different deanery than one they actually reside in,” explained Deacon Bonneau. “If you work in Boston, you can go to Attleboro or if you work in Providence, you can come to Fall River.”
Class size varies, with New Bedford, Taunton and Fall River tending to hover around 30 participants each, while the numbers in Attleboro and Cape Cod tend to be slightly lower. When the diocese began the program about seven years ago, a curriculum was created and designed for use by every class on each given week. This means each deanery sticks to the same five-week schedule of lessons for attendants, allowing those who may have missed a class within their deanery to make up the same class later in the week at a different deanery.
“The most important thing is that they get the basic principles,” explained Deacon Bonneau. “Like in Revelation, as Catholics the sources of Revelation are the Scriptures and tradition, [and we consider] how we interpret the Scriptures — that’s what you want them to take out of it. Are they going to be Scripture scholars at the end of this? Absolutely not; but those are the pieces that we want to emphasize with them and have a basic understanding of that.”
Questions from participants often revolve around what was thought to be the teachings of the Church, misperceptions of certain traditions or things he or she had heard from other people.
“They hear so many different things,” said Deacon Bonneau, adding that reading Scripture, and learning what is meant behind what is said, can be an eye-opening experience for some. “I think they start to read and learn Scripture in a different way.”
In-class discussions sometimes lead to revelations about the motivation behind those wanting to receive the Sacrament. While most attendees are prospective godparents or sponsors, sometimes the motivation is to be a part of a community his or her family is already a member of, or reconnecting with childhood spiritual and religious foundations.
Then there was the young man who, while sitting through a discussion based on a teaching that had somehow morphed into a debate over morality and addictions, raised his hand and changed the entire dynamic of the class, said Deacon Bonneau.
“The topic had come up that addictions — any kind of addictions — are a moral issue and not a disease. The young man quickly raised his hand and said, ‘None of you know what you are talking about. I’m a recovering heroin addict and let me tell you what addiction is all about and how that led me here,’” recalled Deacon Bonneau. “And this was his quote, ‘When God is all you have, you learn that God is all you need.’ The whole class, for the rest of the time, spoke so freely after that; it was an amazing experience.”
Each class does a prayer service during each session to add a spiritual component, and Deacon Bonneau emphasizes students will understand the fullness of the teachings in class “by going to the Sunday Mass. That’s when you’re going to learn at a deeper level to make this meaningful.”
This year there is a new element, an optional retreat day to be held at the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham on March 17.
“The retreat experience is something we ask of our young people before they receive their Sacrament, so why wouldn’t you do that for adults?” said Deacon Bonneau. “I’m very optimistic about it and think it will be well-attended.”
All participants will come together on June 2 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River to celebrate the receiving of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
“Part of evangelization is just opening the door for people,” said Deacon Bonneau. “Regardless of the motivation, we do believe the Holy Spirit is what is prompting them, either through circumstances or their heart. This is a better way to have an understanding of what our Church is really about. As adults, we come to this whole process with a different mind-set with different life experiences. It’s to everybody’s benefit, and when we remove the misperceptions about our teachings, people want to be part of it. The desire enters into it.”
There is no charge for the class; the cost of the book and materials is $25. For more information on how to enroll for the upcoming session, please talk to the pastor of your parish or call the Office of Faith Formation at 508-678-2828.