Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #5 “Receiving the Gifts of the Holy Spirit”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
Jesus is true God and true man. This is a fundamental part of our Catholic creed. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he is eternally God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. From the moment of His conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He has been a man, “like us in all things but sin” (See Hebrews 4:15). The Incarnation, that moment when God became flesh, began a new age in history. In Genesis, after the Original Sin was committed, God promised (in a passage called the protoevangelion or “first Gospel,”) to crush the serpent through a woman and her offspring:
“Then the Lord God said to the snake… I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:14,15).
With Mary and the Christ Child, we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. We have a Savior, a Redeemer! The long awaited Messiah is none other than God in the flesh!
Jesus and Mary, from the first moment of conception, were filled with the Holy Spirit and free of all sin. Jesus was free from sin because He is God. Mary was freed from sin by a special act of God’s Grace that we call the Immaculate Conception. She lived her entire life in this state of grace, becoming in the words of the poet, William Wordsworth, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Like Mary, we are all invited to share life in the Spirit, a life that Jesus had by His very nature as God.
Confirmation is a decision to respond affirmatively to God’s invitation to life in the Spirit. Traditionally, the Church speaks of 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God to help build up the Christian person and the Church. Life in the Spirit, at the very least, means realizing, understanding, witnessing? these gifts and putting them to good use:
- Wisdom – helping us to know the truth and to discover God’s will, God’s way of seeing things
- Understanding – helping us to live in accordance with the truth in the complexity of real life
- Counsel (Right Judgment) – helping us to know good from evil, to form our consciences well
- Fortitude (Courage) – helping us to live our faith and to stand up for Christ and the Gospel
- Knowledge – helping us to be more intimately familiar with God as “Abba,” our perfect Father
- Piety (Reverence) – helps us to worship God properly and to show God the respect that is due
- Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe in God’s Presence) – helps us be humble and trusting in God and to experience all of life as a gift from the Creator, who is worthy of praise and adoration.
On Confirmation retreats, a popular demonstration is to pour chocolate syrup into a glass of milk without stirring and have a student taste it. Of course, it tastes like milk. However, once it is stirred up, the milk changes into chocolate milk. Without losing its nature, it is something new. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are like that. At Confirmation, we tell the students, the Spirit will come into their souls with the 7 gifts and many more, personal gifts. Yet, if we don’t stir them up, they don’t do anything. They settle to the bottom of our soul, so to speak. They don’t change us. Confirmation can be meaningless in such a case. It becomes just an empty ritual. God’s grace is still there. The Spirit is still generously gifting us. But we block the effects by refusing to tap into/ touch upon? these gifts.
On the other hand, when we open the gifts of the Spirit and stir them up in our lives, we begin to live as Christians, or “little Christs” in the words of St. Augustine. We join other members of the Body of Christ in the ongoing work towards? salvation. We work not for ourselves but for the Kingdom of God.
Growing in the Spirit means growing in virtue. Virtues are spiritual muscles. They are good habits formed by repeatedly doing what is good and right. We get used to doing what is good, and it becomes easier. The Theological Virtues are those that most directly relate to our relationship with God. They are Faith, Hope, and Charity/Love.
The Cardinal Virtues (from the Latin word for “hinge” because so much hinges on them) are:
- Prudence – Opening the gift of Counsel/Right Judgment and putting it to work in decision-
making and discernment about issues big and small, public and private
- Justice – Opening the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding to make sure people get what they
are owed and are treated fairly
- Fortitude – Opening up the gift of Courage to do God’s will despite peer pressure or persecution
- Temperance – Opening up the gifts of Knowledge, Fear of the Lord, and Piety to moderate
earthly pleasures in order to heighten our awareness of the needs of others and
to hunger for the Kingdom of God above all.
There are many other virtues as well, such as patience, persistence, fidelity, and chastity. Just as people deny themselves all kinds of pleasures and discipline themselves to work out and build muscle and physique, speed and agility, so too Christians must be willing to engage in forms of self-denial or penance in order to discipline the soul and grow in virtue. The temporary pain of the workout is far exceeded by the results.
The reason we need spiritual discipline is because temptation is very strong and sin is very real and hurtful. Sins are thoughts, words, actions, or omissions that are deficient or lacking in love and are against the will of God. Some sins are so serious that when they are freely chosen with full consent of the will and sufficient reflection on their seriousness, they effect a choice to reject God completely. We lose His Grace by our own choice. If we were to die in such a state, we would not be capable of eternal life, since Heaven is nothing less than sharing the very life of God whom we have rejected by sin. Our eternal destiny would be hell. For this reason, these serious sins are called mortal, or deadly. Any sin, even a serious sin, that is less than mortal either because it is a lesser matter or because we did not freely and completely choose it with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will, is called a venial sin. Venial sins harm but do not destroy our relationship with God. Both mortal and venial sins can be forgiven by expressing our sorrow to God with a genuine act of contrition and, especially for mortal sins, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called Confession or Penance).
We hope that in preparing for Confirmation your son/daughter is learning how to form a good conscience. The Church’s teaching exists in order to help us to form consciences that are aligned with the will of God. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that our conscience is our highest authority before God. We must form it well and follow it always. Forming it well is important, because conscience can be ignorant. It can be mistaken. We must take the time to read Scripture, learn the Church’s teachings, and pray to God for guidance. Then, when our conscience tells us what we must do in a given situation, we are bound to follow it. It speaks to us as the voice of God.
Kevin Dowd is a doctoral candidate in theology and education at Boston College, where he also received his M.Ed. A graduate of Harvard University, Kevin has taught in Catholic schools and public schools in both Massachusetts and New York. Currently he teaches theology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA and writes a weekly blog connecting the Sunday readings to life. You can read the blog at http://www.bayardinc.com/the-word-is-life/