Confirmation: A reflection on the Catholic faith

It was only 84 years ago that Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio took a walk around the town toward the cemetery. At 15 years old, one wouldn’t expect him to be going toward such a dreary place, but rather enjoying time with his friends, perhaps playing a ball game.

But Jose was far from such enjoyments; his walk to the cemetery was made very difficult because government soldiers had sliced his feet. Along the way, he was cut with machetes, and, at the cemetery, after being pierced multiple times with bayonets, he was shot and killed.

What was the purpose of this brutal killing? Jose was told by his captors to “renounce his faith in Christ, under the threat of death.”

Along his walk he was given numerous opportunities to say “Death to Christ the King,” he didn’t. As he was being stabbed with bayonets, he drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it.

I raise the point because I think Jose would totally agree with the first line of Erik Burgess’ recent article in the Forum: “If you want to be Catholic, you have to be 100 percent Catholic.”

Of course, the article in question wishes that weren’t the case. It tells the story of Lennon Cihak, a Barnesville teen who was recently denied Confirmation, the sacrament by which a person becomes an adult in the Catholic Church.
According to the article, his confirmation was denied because he posted a photo of a defaced “Vote Yes” sign on his page. He is holding the sign and smiling. His parents and Lennon are considerably upset at the denial of the sacrament. His father, Doug, argued that God’s creation of Lennon is reason enough to allow Lennon to be confirmed.
I raise the issue, because the relationship of beliefs and membership in the Church has been a hot topic of late. Further, I have found Concordia to be a place where interfaith dialogue is valued as a great asset. It is my intention here, as a Catholic, to share a few easily missed aspects of Catholicism that should put the confirmation incident in a different light.

It has been a common occurrence of late for some Catholics to note a disparity between their ideas and beliefs and those of the Catholic Church. In my home paper, The Advocate, in an op-ed concerning the marriage amendment, Mr. Conor Holt noted a disparity between his conception of Catholicism and the teachings of the Church.
He writes, “I will vote no on the marriage amendment­ because of the values I learned as…member of the Catholic Church…I can only hope that in time they will take to heart their own lessons of love and understanding.”
Lennon expresses a similar idea when he trivializes his situation to a clerical problem.

“I don’t want the church to be put down. I don’t want the Catholic religion to be put down,” he said. “It’s just the way the priest has things running. He’s so strict. He won’t loosen up about things.”

There are two points to be made, the first concerns the internal coherency of the Church, and the second concerns the internal coherency of those who belong to her. In the case of Mr. Holt especially, the assertion is made that there is an apparent and obvious disagreement between the principles of the Church and how she expresses those principles in public. If the Church wants us to be loving, as Christ was loving, then how can she be against homosexual marriage?
Rather than argue that the Church is coherent in principles and teachings, I will simply point out how absurd it would be to be a Catholic and suppose otherwise.

Suppose it is true that there is a disparity between Catholic principles and Catholic teaching, why then would anyone want to be Catholic? If I am convinced that there is a severe (shall we say) hypocrisy within the Church, then it is only reasonable to leave. Why trust your soul to a Church you are convinced can’t get their act together? Too often I see young Catholics living this sort of double life, convinced the Church has massive flaws of dogma and doctrine, yet still pledging with their bodies and souls to believe in her. They ought to make up their minds.

But before everyone who has any kind of problem with their Catholicism runs for the door, might I suggest the possibility that their understanding is wrong, while the Church’s understanding is right? After all the Church has had 2,000 years to sort out problems of inconsistency. We college kids have only had a decade or so of productive thinking. Is it so hard to admit our understanding might be lacking in some way?

It is this humility that is asked of those who become Catholic. The Church doesn’t demand perfection at the time of confirmation, but she does ask for the loss of resistance. You are asked to confirm your faith in the Church and the God who created her. Faith comes before understanding. It is faith in the Church that is asked of those who wished to be part of her.

It was Saint Paul who first noted the similarity between Catholic spirituality and athleticism. “Athletes will take tremendous pains for a fading crown of leaves, our contest is for a crown that will never fade.”

No one calls it unjust when lesser athletes aren’t allowed in the Olympics because they couldn’t pass qualifiers. Even of those who make it all don’t win medals.

The Catholic Church has their qualifier, which is confirmation. We have our medalists, they’re called the saints. Who can be confirmed? Those who accept the truth (and the whole truth) of the Church’s teachings. Who is sainted? The top paragraph should give you some idea.

This column was submitted by John Goerke, MSUM Advocate Staff Writer.


  1. First of all, as a disclaimer, I am an atheist.

    I am deeply surprised and disturbed by the extraordinary level of hostility displayed by a number of individuals here toward John, who has penned an interesting column elucidating the Catholic Church’s expectation of an integral profession of a universal Faith among its members, recognizing that the universality – or catholicity – of this Faith is a fundamental link between the living Church of today and the apostolic times during which the Church emerged. That may not be how many of the posters above perceive the Catholic Church, but it’s important to understand that that’s how the Church sees itself.

    With the huge exception of Kristi’s thoughtful comments as well as one or two others’, the majority of comments above strike me as frustratingly hostile, hateful, and immature. There is no attempt to engage John about his deeply held theological convictions. There is no attempt to recognize that the Church’s unpopular stances on contentious social issues are not the result of an explicit desire to embrace medieval values or oppress people, but are rather a reflection of a deeply held view of sexuality that emphasizes its innate goodness and its co-creative role in God’s salvific plan. There is no attempt to understand how John’s Church views itself within the broader context of Christ’s mission.

    Certainly everyone is free to disagree with John and choose to practice his or her own faith, or none at all. But I can say with confidence, I believe, that a number of values Concordia claims to teach – facilitating constructive dialogue between people of different faiths and perspectives, approaching people with whom we disagree respectfully, understanding why people believe certain things strongly by learning from them and not myopically superimposing our own perspectives on their value hierarchies (e.g. suggesting that the Church denies women ordination because it is anti-woman, or suggesting that the Church prohibits practicing artificial contraception because it is anti-sex) – tragically have a long way to go before they can make serious inroads on how people think and choose to treat others.

    Some of the posters above dove into a number of accusations and complaints regarding homosexuality and women, suggesting John is hateful or that he should be censored and unwelcome to publish in the Concordian because of his views. My advice to you, if you permit me, is to broaden your perspective a bit and take this opportunity to learn something from John, understand why he believes what he believes, and also learn how to articulate your disagreement and your own perspective in a way that is a bit more thoughtful and compassionate. Your attitude does not reflect an attitude that builds dialogue or mutual understanding. Quite frankly, your comments reveal that there seems to be no compassion or love in your approach to people with whom you disagree. Perhaps you might agree with me that this contributes to the very intolerance and division you claim you want to eliminate in the world.

    John, thank you for this column. I am an atheist but frequently enjoy attending the Tridentine Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo because of its extraordinarily moving beauty. I invite you as a member of the Concordia community to continue to write here and share your perspective, one with which many of us may disagree but from which I think we can learn interesting and valuable things.

    1. Excellent response, Adam. I, too, found the responses to this article to be not only disappointing, but also embarrassing.

      I especially liked your mention of how poorly understood Catholic positions are by most supposed proponents of inclusiveness and understanding — for example, as regards ordination of women or use of artificial contraception — and how these positions fit into the greater body of doctrine and into the Church’s understanding of the salvific plan.

      Many of the authors of the above comments behave as though these positions are the result of a group of elderly bigots trying to impose their prejudice, which has at most a grain of truth, rather than seeing the positions as what they really are: necessitated by the theological and doctrinal framework which gives rise to them. For example, the refusal to ordain women is not only compelled by a conviction that women should not be ordained, but also by the understanding that it is, in fact, not possible. Because of the way the Church defines itself, even if the hierarchy were to wish they could change these positions, they could not.

      Disclaimer: Lest I be mistaken for a Catholic, I should point out that I am an atheist who has about as little regard for the Church as possible.

  2. I think this young boy and his parents should leave the Catholic Church, and you John, to your ways and beliefs. As a born and reared Catholic from a country that recently refused to save a woman’s life (despite the fact the foetus was dying)in the name of the Catholic Church, I will openly say I detest the Catholic Church and it’s actions. How can they say love one another as I have loved you dot dot dot unless you commit homosexual acts or suicide. I cannot understand how the Catholic Church gladly turns away people who merely want to express their love, no matter to what sex it is directed towards. Love is a core teaching of Jesus, yet the Catholic Church rejects it?
    This double life young Catholics lead is sad. I would love to say I am Catholic for the positive points I learned in my youth growing up about the loving teachings of Jesus. Yet I have discovered in my older years the sordid side that I can never identify with, the ‘internal coherency’ as you call it. John, you should research into the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, who abused young women both physically and verbally, using them as slaves to garner finance. You should also note the child abuse that has been swept under the rug consistently in the past until people finally stepped out of the yoke that the Catholic Ministry was and challenged the authority that abused them. The Catholic Church’s refusal to intervene when the Jew’s were being murdered in Germany. Their refusal to enter into the Civil Rights movement in America with the idea that ‘Church and Politics don’t mix’ up until the point abortion was on the political agenda. Tell me now John, how can I gladly be part of an institution that has through out the years ignored it’s own teachings in order to further itself? I refuse to be blind folded to the truth. There will always be a place for God in my heart, but there shall never be a place for inequality, exclusion, bullying and violence. It’s still the same despite their ‘2000’ years of trying to work it all out. Think about that my friend, and understand the anger that people feel. They are trying to defend those who are weaker and less privileged in our unequal society.

  3. You’ve gotta respect everyone’s beliefs.” No, you don’t. That’s what gets us in trouble. Look, you have to acknowledge everyone’s beliefs, and then you have to reserve the right to go: “That is fucking stupid. Are you kidding me?” I acknowledge that you believe that, that’s great, but I’m not going to respect it. I have an uncle that believes he saw Sasquatch. We do not believe him, nor do we respect him!


  4. Hi John,
    First of all, I’m sorry for all these hateful comments that you’ve received on behalf of your article and your beliefs. They seem to have missed that interfaith dialogue is about story telling, telling why you believe what you do. Has politics taught us that there is no such this as respectful disagreement, or is that just because few people read these comments that are posted?

    As a Lutheran coming to Concordia, I knew some things about the Catholic Church, however for the past two months I’ve been studying it in depth for a variety of research papers revolving around the Eucharist. Although I disagree with parts of Catholic theology, I first want to applaud you for keeping with your beliefs in the face of hatred. My biggest problem with the Catholic Church right now is that they want every person to accept everything that they teach. How can someone make their faith their own, making it a personal relationship with God, if they aren’t encouraged to figure out their own beliefs and are told to conform to the beliefs of an organized church. For example, transubstantiation, it wasn’t confirmed as the actual process of the wine and the bread becoming Jesus’ blood and body until the Council of Trent in 1551, before that many people had variance in what they believed, but because of a few theologians, now all Catholics are expected to have complete faith in that.

    As far as the exact acts you were describing, why should a child be denied confirmation because he loves his brothers and sisters? He wasn’t challenging the church, he just had a different view and wanted to support his neighbors. I struggle to see how one can validate the other. If the Catholic Church kicks out anyone who deviates slightly, it’s no surprise then that it takes thousands of years to reform. However, I wouldn’t agree with the statement you made that the Catholic Church has things figured out better than we do, because the Church isn’t a living thinking being that’s studied for two-thousand years, it’s composed of many individual people who live and die, so some of the knowledge can pass on, but other parts, might it just be a little confusing and irrelevant to today’s time?

    I hope I was a little more respectful toward you in my comments than my peers, I have definitely made an effort to be, but this is just some of what I struggle with in the Catholic Church right now

  5. Hey John,

    Thanks for buying a mug.

    You seem to skim over the idea that there are discrepancies between the teachings of the church (preferably not feminine, by the way), and the people within Catholicism. I think a more interesting question is WHY people remain in the church; I don’t think that entails a belief in all that “she” teaches. This is something I came across in my 18+ years as a Catholic. In my experience, people were interested more in the theology of transubstantiation or Mary, it seemed, more than the arguably counter-cultured social stanses (homosexuality, premarital sex, etc). Do you think people stay in the Church more for a certain understanding of God, or for the social implications of Catholicism? Despite the seemingly unpopular views on social issues, I think people truly DO like the Catholic understanding of God. I don’t think that means that the social structures can’t change… They have in the past (lets say, women even being apart of the mass at all). What’s stopping this from happening today? I think the Catholic tradition wouldn’t be at fault for wishing to evolve (it evolved in Vatican 2 for the betterment of the Christian community). Are you interested in seeing this happen?

    Also, that is a sincere question. I think interfaith dialogue IS important, and I wished more of the Concordia students in this post were engaging in more constructive dialogue. I am an Atheist, just to set the record, and don’t agree with your assertions… To a certain degree, I find them quite harmful. However, I don’t find a lot of value in name-calling and think a better conversation is worth having.

    Thanks for your perspective, and I’d like to see more thoughtful dialogue come from this.

  6. Also, I need to officially add that I do not believe this is what the interfaith movement stands for in our ongoing dialogue. Opinions matter,yes, but respect matters more than the need to be seen as correct.

    1. Paula, this IS a Catholic perspective on homosexuality… feel free to disagree. I think most people here do. Keep in mind that he is representing the official stance of the Catholic tradition. You ask for his respect, but are you interested in respecting his commitment to the tradition? If not, I don’t think your desire to seek this is warranted. He has every right to disagree with the more
      “liberal” Catholic movement, even though we might find the article offensive. My question to you: are YOU trying to find the resonances?

      1. I apologize because I meant no real disrespect to his opinions. I was hardly speaking on his claims of Catholic perspective on homosexuality. I don’t expect him to agree with all Catholics, I suppose all I wanted to point out is the fact that I did not see the piece as encouraging helpful discussion. The joke I made about grammar before was immature, but I certainly am not saying he has no right to express his opinion about his faith.

  7. this is why people transfer

    1. that’s why i left, tbh

  8. Why can’t MSUM people leave us Concordia people to hate our own people? Stop outsourcing hate. Keep it local.

  9. This is extremely disheartening to read. As someone with many LGBTQ friends and family, who considers myself a strong ally, and who is ALSO a Christian, I certainly do not believe that they are less deserving of God’s love, or even that being who God made them is sinful. Love is love is love, and shame on you.

  10. I find it actually hilarious that Mr. Goerke calls the Catholic church a “she” because the Catholic Church is ANYTHING but friendly to women (or really anything feminine at all).

    Disclaimer: Born and raised Catholic. Even a confirmed Catholic. *shudders*.

    What is blinding in this article is the ignorance of the statement “Faith before understanding.” I’m not here to knock anyone’s belief in God… but I refuse to have faith in something I cannot understand (I don’t think all Christian religions are necessarily like this, but the Catholic one sure is). It literally makes no sense to me that a religion that claims to preach love and tolerance can be so blatantly discriminatory to folks who don’t identify as heterosexual, or women, for that matter. (Women can’t become ordained Priests in the Catholic faith… but the list goes on).

    I could argue about Catholicism all day – but my primary point with this comment is that this type of religious dogmatism is silly and dated, at best. Blind faith is akin to being a bystander watching violence occur. I refuse to participate.

  11. Side note:
    If I wanted to create people to then cast them into eternal hellfire…..You have blatantly misquoted or misunderstood me. Secondly, I am disappointed in you John. WHY WOULD MY FATHER AND I give you millions of years to develop a complex frontal lobe to then have you deny your own rational capabilities; especially to the church. You realize I didn’t create the ‘church’ or my own religion. Other people did. And side note. Faith is personal not mass produced or defined by churches.

  12. “I’ve noticed that organized religion has inconsistencies. I must be the one that’s wrong”. Do you listen to yourself?

  13. I am incredibly ashamed of Concordia for posting such an offensive article. I really don’t think we need MORE people from our community saying hurtful things about people based on their sexual orientation. This “Sin is Sin” shenanigans was more than enough intolerance for one academic year. So the next logical step is to get some guy from MSUM to post in our very own newspaper with more hateful statements? Shame on you, Concordian. This only affirms my belief that the school paper is not an accurate representation of the student body. If we can’t get committed students from our own campus to write opinion articles, maybe we should just leave some blank space and avoid offending a large amount of your readers.

  14. I’m not sure why we had to bring this guy in to hate on me and my rights. I get enough of that from students at Concordia.

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