On Friday, I was honored to be the sponsor for my goddaughter Kelsey’s Confirmation. She took the name Michael, after St. Michael the Archangel, protector of police. We do have more than a few police officers in the family, including her dad, and so the name was fitting. After Bishop McManus anointed her forehead and said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he greeted me. The handshake left my hand covered in sacred chrism. As we sat back down, Kelsey giggled about that, saying, “He confirmed your hand.”
In these weeks after Easter, the Church’s liturgy continues to celebrate the Resurrection with festive joy. It also continues to anticipate Pentecost. The Paschal Mystery, after all, finds its fullness in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Only because of “the consolation of the Holy Spirit” can Luke describe the attempted murder of the newly converted Saul–“they tried to kill him”–and then, in the next breath say, “The church… was at peace.” The Spirit is the promise of Jesus, the peace the world cannot give (cf. John 14:27).
At the Confirmation, Bishop McManus addressed three questions to the young people, and then taught some Catholic answers. These questions are a good reflection for all of us as we renew our faith in the Risen One and await the great feast of Pentecost.
First, he asked, “What is your mission in life?” Although we each have different gifts and vocations, the bishop said we all have the same mission. We are supposed to get to Heaven. The whole point of the sacraments, he said, is to give us grace, which is a share in God’s life. The sacraments exist to make sure that when we die, our souls will live on in Heaven, sharing eternal life with God. “But,” he told them, “We are not supposed to go alone. We are supposed to bring as many people with us as we can.”
Second, he asked, “Will there be challenges, risks, and obstacles to fulfilling that mission?” We know that, of course, there are many. Bishop McManus focused on one: violence. He acknowledged the level of violence to which our young people today are subjected, referencing the school shooting in Parkland, FL as a recent example. “But,” he said, “it isn’t just guns. We can do terrible damage with our tongues as well.” He spoke about the sins of gossip, bullying, and of ruining another’s reputation by saying destructive things online. “These are violent acts, too,” he said.
Third, he asked, “What will help me to be successful in my mission?” He could have drawn his answer directly from today’s Gospel. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…” The Spirit we received in Baptism and Confirmation is the source of our union with Christ. The Spirit, therefore, points us directly to Jesus in the Eucharist, saying, in effect, this is now who you are, your true identity, the source of eternal life. For this reason, St. Augustine taught his people, “Receive what you are, and become what you receive.”
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding regarding the sacraments in our age is the idea that they are rites of passage. As such, they are like doorways through which we pass into new stages of life. Baptism, then, is a celebration of a new birth. First Communion becomes merely a rite of passage from the toddler years into childhood (having attained the age of reason, in the Church’s lingo). Confirmation becomes another stage of growth, a doorway into adulthood. Even Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick get interpreted this way. While it is not entirely wrong, it is far from sufficient. The sacraments are much more than rites of passage.
A better way to think of sacraments is as sources of grace, as Bishop McManus taught the young people Friday. They are not doorways, then, that recede into the background as we advance along our life’s journey, being only useful once to mark the passage. Instead, they are more like irrigation ditches that will continually bring us the water we need to live and to grow. Our own Baptism is not in the past, it is very much with us, connecting us still to Christ. Our own Confirmation is not a long-ago memory; it is instead the source of everyday courage, wisdom, right judgment, knowledge, understanding, and reverence. It is the source of the grace that still allows us to see God at work in the world and to be filled with wonder and awe!
Think back on the various sacraments you’ve received over the years. Can you discern God’s grace still flowing from them? Can you see how over the years that grace has grafted you more fully onto the Vine and connected you more fully with the family of God? Can you see God at work through those sacraments, preparing you for eternal life?
I hope the same for my goddaughter and for all the young people being Confirmed in the faith of Christ.