Archbishop to discuss restored order of sacraments of initiation

All invited to join in May 28 phone call

Julie Filby

Archbishop Samuel Aquila will host a live phone call at the end of the month to discuss his initiative to restore the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and Eucharist—to their original order, which places confirmation before first Eucharist.

The TeleForum call, to be held 7 p.m. May 28 and open to all Catholics, is the second in a series by the archbishop, allowing him to listen to and speak with thousands of participants in real time.

“The phone call will be a resource for parents, religious education instructors, teachers and principals, and even young people themselves to ask questions of the archbishop about the plan to return the sacraments of initiation to their proper order in our archdiocese,” explained Karna Swanson, executive director of communications.

In a letter to be released May 24, Pentecost Sunday, titled “Saints Among Us,” Archbishop Aquila will explain the importance of restored order, and ask every parish to implement the changes necessary to have it in place by 2020. In doing so, children of the Archdiocese of Denver will be confirmed and receive first Eucharist in third grade, compared to recent years when confirmation was typically received in middle school or high school, and first Eucharist in second grade.

Archbishop Aquila restored confirmation to its original place in the Diocese of Fargo, N.D. in 2002, where he served as bishop prior to coming to the Archdiocese of Denver in 2012. An increasing number of dioceses in the United States have adopted, or are in the process of adopting a restored order policy, including the Diocese of Honolulu announced by Bishop Larry Silva April 24.

Unfortunately, confirmation has become “the sacrament of farewell,” Pope Francis said when visiting with young people in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy in September 2013.

“Whatever we are doing now isn’t working,” Swanson said, “as the sacrament of confirmation tends to mark the end, rather than the beginning, of a close relationship with Christ.”

During the call, the archbishop wants to hear from those directly impacted by the change, she said, and the TeleForum technology will allow participants the opportunity to ask questions as well as leave feedback.

“The most common question we receive is ‘Why are we doing this?’” Swanson said. “That is a great question, and one I hope will be asked on May 28.”

Other questions, she added, might include the history of the sacraments of initiation, how the order was changed in the early 20th century, how the archdiocese will handle the changes, how to prepare children for sacraments, and how the restored order may provide a new opportunity for the parishes’ approach to youth ministry.

“I invite every single Catholic to participate in this phone call,” Swanson said. “This is a major initiative by the Archdiocese of Denver, and one that will need the cooperation of all members of the faithful of northern Colorado.”

Hundreds of Catholics participated in the archbishop’s inaugural TeleForum Dec. 21, 2014, which featured a Christmas message, as well as the archbishop’s live responses to 13 questions. In addition, 268 people left voice messages asking a specific question, requesting information or guidance, or simply wishing the archbishop a merry Christmas.

TeleForum technology, developed by the Highlands Ranch-based corporation Broadnet and donated to the archdiocese, is a step in the Office of Communication’s ongoing plans to develop more tools to communicate the message of the archbishop in new and different ways, according to Swanson.

Since Broadnet’s inception in 2004, they have managed more than 14,000 telephone interactive events, involving politicians, world leaders, professional sports teams and faith-based organizations.

> Register for the TeleForum by texting “bishop” to 313131.

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.