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Sacraments and Social Anxiety: Can One Be Confirmed in a Less Public Way?

A listener emails Father Dave about receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation while managing social anxiety.

Rebecca explains, “I’m a cradle Catholic, but as a teenager, I left the Church due to an extreme social anxiety disorder, and a priest who was very mean about it.” She describes how she returned after 23 years and began discussing her mental health with a different priest. Rebecca continues, “This new priest was wonderful and I requested to be confirmed, explaining I could not get up in front of everyone to do it. He was willing to work with me, but then COVID hit. Until this Ash Wednesday [in 2023], I hadn’t been to church in three years and he has since moved on [to a new pastoral placement]. I truly need to be confirmed, but is it permissible to have it done without the big show?”

LISTEN: Fatherly Advice: Helping a Loved One With Anxiety

Father Dave first expresses his sorrow regarding her experience as a teenager. “Whenever I hear that a priest was the source of somebody walking away from the Church, that makes me sad in my heart,” Father Dave says, noting that the spectrum, unfortunately, ranges from an interaction like this to cases of abuse. He continues, “It makes me humbly aware that if we treat somebody in the right way, in a Christ-like, hospitable, and pastoral way, the things that the Holy Spirit and Jesus inspire us to, we can have a positive effect on people. But we can also have a negative effect on people if we’re leaning more on our own humanness.” 

“She has a great desire to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. But is it permissible to have it done without being the big show? Rebecca, I can say to you the answer is yes, it is not only permissible, but our procedures, rules, and even our canon laws are all there for the sake of the people of God,” Father Dave says.

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However, he says, “I can’t sit here on the radio and guarantee that no person might be a barrier to you and that Sacrament because, obviously, you’ve experienced already in your life that they have.” Father Dave encourages her to explain her situation to another priest and hopes that she will find “a greater number of priests that would be sensitive to that” and work with her to receive this Sacrament, just like the priest she met with before the pandemic.

Father Dave and Brett express thanksgiving that society and the Church understand mental health better than in previous decades. Brett says, “This person has a tough time being around or being in front of a lot of people. And that seems to be very inherent in this [Sacrament] and it has kind of shunned her from what she wants, this beautiful part of the Church. These are exactly the sorts of things that we’re happy to be having breakthroughs in. To your point, not everyone is there with that understanding, but we’re getting better.”