As our parish celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation this weekend, I have been reflecting on the extraordinary -- yet often overlooked -- gift we receive in this sacrament. While Baptism and Eucharist are certainly viewed with great importance, sometimes Confirmation does not receive the same value. This is evidenced in statistics from a 2007 USCCB study that show that 90% of Catholics receive Baptism and First Communion, but 69% receive Confirmation.
I love the sacrament of Confirmation! These statistics frustrate me because Confirmation is such a profound and beautiful gift, of which I am reminded each year at our parish Confirmation liturgy, and I have great hope this next generation of Catholics can foster a greater understanding, and therefore appreciation, of this sacrament.
An example that comes to mind of the importance of the Holy Spirit is of a discussion we had at our Parish Staff meeting during Holy Week. We considered the question of whether or not we would have had the courage to stay with Jesus and defend him when the soldiers came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane. The majority said that even though we would like to think that we could stay with Jesus, most likely, we would have probably turned and fled like the Apostles. In our discussion, I reminded the staff that at that point, the Apostles had not yet received the Gift of the Holy Spirit since Jesus had not yet died and risen, and the promised Advocate had not yet been sent to them at Pentecost. So if we look at it from this perspective, even though the Apostles had known an intimate relationship with the human Jesus, in many ways they were far less equipped than we are to manage the adversities of life – we not only have the gift of receiving Jesus in the flesh on a weekly (or daily, if we desire) basis through the Eucharist, but through the sacramental grace of Baptism and Confirmation, we are also strengthened and sealed with the Holy Spirit in a way that the Apostles had not yet known in the Garden.
I feel that Confirmation and similarly, the feast of Pentecost, are sometimes underrated in Catholic sensibility. I have had the privilege of teaching Adult Confirmation for the last five years, and it is such a joy to walk the journey of faith with these adults, who for various reasons, return to receive this sacrament later in life. As I tell our candidates each year, at the Confirmation liturgy when they are coming forward to be anointed with the Sacred Chrism and sealed with the Holy Spirit, they are being changed forever, indelibly marked, with sanctifying grace and the seven gifts of wisdom, right judgment, understanding, reverence, wonder & awe, knowledge, and fortitude. As the Bishop (or in our parish’s case this year, Fr. John!) marks each candidate, I always like to imagine a little pilot light flame -- POOF! -- appearing over each person’s head. I imagine the light that is intensified in the church when the flames over the heads of the newly-confirmed are combined with the flames over those who were already confirmed, starting with the first Apostles in the upper room at Pentecost. It is awe-inspiring to imagine the light we can share with the world because of the gift of Confirmation.
If you haven’t thought about it before or recently, I encourage you to think and pray about this special legacy and to open your mind and heart to the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in your life. Don’t underestimate the power your Confirmation has had in your faith journey, be it yesterday, 10, 20, or 50 years ago!
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.