Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Confirmation: What is your mission?

All should hasten without delay to be born again unto God, and afterwards to be signed by the Bishop, that is, to receive the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit…as has been handed down to us from St. Peter, and as the other Apostles taught in obedience to the command of our Lord…,” So says the church’s fourth pope, St. Clement (88-97 AD).
The Father prepared his people throughout the Old Testament for the coming of the Son, the Messiah. In the New Testament the Son prepared his people for the coming of the Holy Spirit. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying our, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Ephesians 4:6). The Trinity desires to dwell in the very depths of our souls, thus making us temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
In baptism we are born from above through water and the Spirit (cf. John 3:3-5). God the Father wishes to strengthen that gift of divine life/grace. He longs for us to share in the anointing of the Son, through the laying on of hands, so that we might be anointed ones, little christs. He desires to anoint us for a special mission. This is where the sacrament of confirmation comes in.
“For those who have been made Christians by Baptism, still have in some sort the tenderness and softness, as it were, of new-born infants, and afterwards become, by means of the Sacrament of chrism, stronger to resist all of the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil, while their minds are fully confirmed in faith to confess and glorify the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…it also increases divine grace…” (“Catechism of the Council of Trent,” p. 209).
Like the Apostles “so weak and timid were they before, and even at the very time of the Passion, that no sooner was our Lord apprehended, than they instantly fled…and after the Resurrection they all remained shut up at home for fear of the Jews. But, on the day of Pentecost, so great was the power of the Holy Spirit with which they were filled that, while they boldly and freely disseminated the Gospel confided to them, not only through Judea, but throughout the world, they thought no greater happiness could await them than that of being accounted worthy to suffer contumely, chains, torments and crucifixion, for the name of Christ” (ibid., p.210)
Confirmation is an often misunderstood sacrament. It is looked at as a Catholic Bar Mitzvah, a sort of rite of passage into a mature faith. However, it is the case that a baptized Catholic infant can receive confirmation. (This is what is done in Eastern Rite Catholic churches). Any child 7 years old and up who wants to be baptized in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church will also receive confirmation and Eucharist immediately following baptism.
Confirmation can also be seen as the end of the road in terms of religious education.
Confirmation is one of three sacraments of Christian initiation. It means the beginning, not the end. We are now called to go deeper and deeper into our faith so as to grow in our relationship with Christ and the church. We are supposed to move further away from sin, and closer and closer to the Most Holy Trinity, while becoming witnesses of what it means to live an authentically Christian life.
In confirmation we are anointed for a special mission, like the priests, prophets and kings of old, and Jesus in the new covenant. Every person is called to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly role of the anointed one, Christ.
“…Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The laity shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, although in a different way than those who receive the sacrament of holy orders (cf. CCC, 1546-1547). All who are baptized and confirmed share in Christ’s priesthood, and the primarily role of any priest is to offer sacrifice. St. Paul makes it clear that part of this spiritual sacrifice Peter speaks of is to “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). The whole of who we are, body and soul, everything we do and say, every moment of every day, is meant to be offered to the Father in union with the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, made truly present in the Eucharist.
“But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). The anointing we receive allows us a share is the kingship of the King of kings. The priesthood we share with Christ is to be a royal priesthood. As Adam was given a royal priestly dominion over the world, so we are called to “…govern the world in holiness and justice, and render judgment in integrity of heart” (Wisdom 9:3). We are called to be little Christ the kings, by first giving Christ reign as king and center of our own hearts and homes, and bring Christ’s royal dominion into every part of the world, and every aspect of life.
All of this can be done by sharing in Christ’s role as prophet, by announcing “…the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful life” (1 Peter 2:9). We are called, “to proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). All those who share in the anointing of Christ through confirmation have a duty and obligation, as well as the grace, to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17).
St. Ambrose exhorts us to, “Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”

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