Confirmation: The Grace to be bold, brave, believing Catholics
Nobody has it as a goal in life to be weak, to be wishy-washy, to be mediocre. Most people want to be good at what they do, to be recognized, to be known for something worthwhile.
I say nobody has a goal to be weak, but some people are weak. Many people want to be good and known for something good but never are. Why is that? How is it that sometimes the things we want never happen? How come some things we want to be, we never are, or worse, we become things we don’t want to be? Some might say, “Well that’s just life, that’s the way it goes.” To me, that’s a very easy answer. And it’s dead wrong.
When God made us, when God created us, he gave us each an individual soul – that power of life – that marks each one of us out uniquely. Mary, John, Bob, Elizabeth, David, Theresa – each one of us was created by God uniquely and differently. And when God created us, he planted within our very souls, gifts and graces and talents – some natural, some potential, requiring growth and development.
And God gave us an environment within which his grace could grow: parents, families, neighborhood communities, school, religious education programs, the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Confirmation provides us with one of those environments – the Catholic Church – which is composed of people drawn from all those other environments, to experience a special grace that only comes through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
We know from our studies of the Catholic faith that a sacrament is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” That definition has not changed since our parents and grandparents – and, yes, your Bishop! – studied religion from the Baltimore Catechism.
We also know that there are seven sacraments and that they lead and follow us through the whole of our life, from the time we are born –the Sacrament of Baptism – through all the important experiences of life until we are ready to die – the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
The Sacrament of Confirmation takes our Baptism one step further. It is a sacrament of special strength and power. It brings us graces and gifts, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to enable us NOT to be weak or wishy-washy or mediocre but to STAND UP, to STAND OUT, to BE RECOGNIZED AS A CHILD OF GOD – to BE GOOD AND TO DO GOOD.
This sacrament is so important, so powerful that we only receive it once because Christ instituted its effects to last for the whole of our lifetime!
When the Holy Spirit first descended upon the Church at the first Pentecost, it was to fulfill Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would not leave them alone when he returned to his heavenly Father. Those same disciples gathered in that upper room were filled with fear – fear for their lives because they were Jesus’ closest friends and followers and he had been put to death for what he taught and preached and stood for.
But the Holy Spirit came upon them, and all their fears disappeared. The Holy Spirit, who is God, filled their hearts and souls with his gifts: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe. What a difference the Holy Spirit made in their lives! What a difference the Holy Spirit will make in the lives of all Catholics who receive him … if we let him and if we open our hearts and minds to welcome him.
At Confirmation, we are like those first disciples, only 2000 years later! We become “the new disciples” for our own time. But remember, it is the same Holy Spirit now as then. The same Catholic Church now as then. The same sacrament as they received.
Those receiving Confirmation – whether as children or adults – take their place among the members of the Catholic Church community. They renew their Baptism and the promises made in that initial sacrament. You pledge them for yourselves! And their sponsors, faithful Catholics, serve as models and offer their support.
The Oil of Chrism which I consecrate every Holy Week will be traced on your forehead by me, as Bishop, since I am a “Successor of the Apostles” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those presenting themselves for Confirmation (confirmandi) will be sealed with the Gift that is the Holy Spirit. They even take a new Christian name – usually that of a saint – to symbolize their new identity and place within the Catholic Church.
When I administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, along with those priests who share and assist in this ministry with me, I encourage three things of the confirmandi:
Be bold Catholics. Don’t be embarrassed by the Catholic faith and what it teaches and asks of us. Let that faith be known and seen and felt by those who surround you. Be brave Catholics. Never be afraid to stand up and represent who and what you are. Use the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Church, for others, for yourself. Be believing Catholics. Know your faith and what it means and what it doesn’t mean. You cannot pick and choose what to believe. Believe in Christ and the Catholic Church. And let others see the brightness of your light which, in Confirmation, is Christ’s light.
To be bold, brave, and believing Catholics means to live and practice the Catholic faith. Despite statistics that reveal a disappointing and contrary reality (95% of those confirmed DON’T return to Church the following Sunday!),
Confirmation should inspire a deep, personal commitment to go to Mass every Sunday, to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, to pray and to serve our neighbor in loving, concrete ways, as the Lord Jesus asks us. And for those who are young, parents should share that commitment with their children. Don’t abandon them and their developing faith!
I consider it a grace-filled privilege to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation as I have to tens of thousands of young people and adults in the Diocese of Trenton since 2010. May they consider it a privilege for them to receive and live this Sacrament!