Monday, June 4, 2018

Confirmation – perhaps the most under-valued Sacrament for the Christian life.

Among the seven Sacraments of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the one Sacrament that is often misunderstood and rather poorly appreciated is Confirmation.  A shallow, superficial and insufficient grasp of this Sacrament has in its wake many negative consequences.  It is my hope that this reflection helps those who haven’t yet a good appreciation of what this Sacrament is and provides us to have a heightened awareness of this tremendous grace from God.

One of the unfortunate things about Confirmation is that it is most often celebrated in tandem with the biological time of a young person’s foray into physical adulthood.  This is unfortunate because I have seen way too many cases that the spiritual maturity of a person often isn’t something that develops and grows alongside one’s biological maturity.  Would that it was.  But if one thinks about it, neither does one’s emotional maturity accompany one’s biological maturity. What more one’s spiritual maturity?

Confirmation is, together with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, collectively referred to as the Sacraments of Initiation.  They are meant to start one off or launch one into life – which is outgoing, organic and ever developing.  The oft-quoted maxim “life isn’t a destination but a journey” is relevant here.  The Sacraments of Initiation set the the tone right for one to face the challenges of life with a certain dexterity, verve and resolve.

Sacraments, however, are not magic.  As much as they bestow grace to those who receive them, the effect that they impart to us are always subject to our willingness to cooperate with God.  If it is magic, the disposition of the recipient would hardly matter at all, because one would have no true freedom to respond or not to respond.  Black magic, often associated with spells, hexes and evil, have the intention of making the person unfree, controlled and bound in some way.  Sacraments are a direct opposite, where one has to put in effort and intentionality to respond to what God is offering out of love.  

Confirmation gives those who are confirmed in the faith great strength.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit’s vey life, the one confirmed sees the great need to step up in living the adult Christian life, where one’s actions and choices are made with one eye cast on our heavenly goal and eternal union with God.  One’s consciousness is more attuned to in every aspect of life, and one becomes emboldened to live in a way that makes of one’s life a walking signboard to others as one lives one’s adult life.  But one is also free to reject this gift and live in ways contrary to the call of Christ.

This is one of the reasons why the Church has always taught that one should be a Confirmed Catholic before one can celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage, with exceptions made.  Marriage is an adult mode of living, and Christian Marriage has a dimension of mission that every married couple is called to.  A Sacramentally Married couple has the very challenging but onerous task of being a living sign of the living Christ in and through the way they live sacrificially and selflessly their married vows.  Only when one is empowered through a meaningful response to one’s Confirmation does this make sense.  Fidelity and faithfulness are never going to be something that is imposed on us.  They will only work when we make the effort to want to stretch our hearts to live in such a way that we want to will the good of the other.

Just as Confirmation isn’t magic, neither is Marriage.  It takes commitment, lots of effort, and plenty of self-sacrifice to really work.  A married couple that is only willing to love when they feel like it, or when the ‘mood’ is right will hardly be truly committed to love ‘in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do they part’.  Confirmation is a public declaration that one is willing to make a similar commitment to live out one’s faith.  When this understanding is lacking in the one being confirmed, it will only remain a Rite with little impact made on the inner self.  This is clearly seen when one who has been confirmed stops the mindful and loving practice of one’s faith, and only comes to Sunday Eucharist on an ‘as and when’ basis.  Instead of being a Sacrament of Maturity, the one confirmed is displaying signs of spiritual immaturity.

St Thomas Aquinas has been known to be responsible for this Latin axiom about life – quidquid recipitur modum recipitur recipientis.  It essentially means that whatever is given is received according to the mode of the receiver.  If one’s heart and consciousness is underdeveloped and small, the gift (of grace) may be huge, but one can only receive it in a small way due to an inherent inability or insufficiency.  This could explain why there may be many who, though confirmed in their faith, are somewhat unable to respond as fully to the Christian life as they should.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Fr Luke for this.

    So maybe the preparation for Confirmation in itself needs to be more than just a teaching of Catechism in a class. Maybe preparation could be more actively done outside the class and in the real world. For our would-be confirmands, 'tuning in to real life'in the situations presented to them could be opportunities to conscientise those still 'youthful' in their faith journey. It could help them delve deep and hopefully with love and compassion; they would seek to respond sacrifically (to people or situations) with no expectation of reward or recognition.

    Hence more 'adult' situations given with guidance and practice by our Catechists could help prepare would-be confirmands to better understand the gifts and grace that they will be bestowed by God at the celebration of their Confirmation.

    And this is where I would like to also point out that parents should be willing and active partners with Catechists so that together as a faith-community we prepare our youth - our children - to face a world that will challenge them to live the values of Jesus faithfully. No one can face the world alone. But together; we (the Church as a family) and our children stand a better chance of living our lives the way Christ has called us to.

    Andre Ahchak