Confirming Our Confirmation!
Eighth graders in our parish are preparing for Confirmation, one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church and probably the one that resonates least with my earlier Evangelical formation. Two nights this week I had individual time with some of these 13-14 year-olds –– “interview with the clergy.” So as I prepared my heart I was asking myself and the Lord: What do I do with these young souls in the space of ten minutes?
I started with a couple of questions: 1) What does being confirmed say about you? and, 2) What do you expect to be different in your life because you are confirmed? Not surprisingly, I got mostly standard answers that showed what they had learned in the CCD classes –– full entry into the Church, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and even an assumption that a desire for prayer, coming to Mass and doing right things would become easier.
For those that had older siblings I asked if that last one had happened observably with their brothers and sisters. A couple of the kids said, “Hmmmm.... maybe they were nicer for a week or so, but not really....”
Then a harder question: How about the many Catholics who have been confirmed but show no fruit of the Spirit in their lives, even to the point of vehemently turning against the Church? That’s a hard one!
What really happens in Confirmation? Here is what this “newbie” to the process told them....
Confirmation is one of the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Sacraments are graces –– gifts –– that God has chosen to give us through the Church. Without the Church there are no Sacraments. Several things are implied here.
One is that in establishing the Church God is telling us that we cannot be good enough by ourselves nor truly spiritual. There is a popular sentiment expressed today that says, “I am spiritual but I’m not religious –– I don’t need a church.” Catholic Faith teaches that God says this is not true. By ourselves we are not strong enough to be truly good and by ourselves we are not smart enough to exercise a proper spirituality. We need help.
The Sacraments are a tangible way that God has chosen to help us. This means Confirmation is a gift from God to help us in our quest of goodness and true spirituality –– in other words, grace for salvation and eternal life.
So, Confirmation is a gift (that’s a key way to understand “grace”). A gift does not cost the recipient anything, but it does cost the giver. When Jesus gives us a gift we need to remember he paid for it for with his life. He died on the cross in order to give us these gifts of grace.
What effect does a gift have on a person? Well, it depends on what one does with it. When I was a child there was a TV program called The Millionaire, and each episode was about a person who was chosen by a very wealthy man to receive the anonymous gift of $1,000,000.
I presented the kids with this scenario: When they come to be interviewed I give them a check for $1,000,000 (actually I said a lesser amount in the interviews, but I should have made it huge and symbolically reflective of God’s grace). In this fanciful situation a person can either think the whole thing is bogus and not cash the check, or a person can cash the check, receive the gift and use it.
This is, I think, a great way to understand Confirmation. When the Bishop extends his hands in blessing and, acting on behalf of Jesus Christ and his Church, gives the Sacrament of Confirmation, a great gift is given. This is the grace of our Lord extended through the corporate life of the tangible Body of Christ on earth. The personal issue then comes into focus: What will you do with this gift? A person can treat Confirmation like a magnanimous check that is dismissed and left un-cashed. The gift has been given, but it is not being used. Or, a person can “use” his Confirmation for both his good and the glory of God.
How does one “use” Confirmation? It starts with faith –– an attitude that chooses to act on the belief that something is real and worthwhile. That can be, first, an attitude that remembers we cannot live unto God all by ourselves, making our own judgments according to our own understanding. When we choose to listen to Jesus through his Church we are “using” our Confirmation. When we embrace a humble attitude that remembers we are not strong enough to do right things by ourselves and thus ask the Holy Spirit to help us choose right over wrong and the true good over lesser goods that are simply easier, more popular, or even wrong, we are “using” our Confirmation.
Every day we have countless decisions to make. Some are small and seem relatively inconsequential; some are huge and we know the choice will affect us in a big way. We will face such decisions as long as we live. The issue of faith is this: will I “use” the gift of Confirmation –– the grace and power of the Holy Spirit bought by the shed blood of Jesus Christ –– to live beyond myself and choose that which is right and good? That is one way we know we are confirming our Confirmation!