March 28, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Confirmation brings an increase of baptismal grace

The Easter season is the traditional time in which we highlight the three sacraments that are called the sacraments of initiation.

Baptism makes us a member of the Body of Christ. The sacrament of confirmation brings an increase and a deepening of baptismal grace. The Eucharist perfects our union with Christ and “makes the Church.”

The importance of baptism and the Eucharist is pretty well understood. The sacrament of confirmation is not so easily understood.

In fact, a significant number of people have never been confirmed. I don’t think they understand what they are missing. Some who have received the sacrament may have only a partial idea about its meaning.

It is easy to think that receiving the sacraments in general is all about us and our doing. It is important to remember that the sacraments are a gift from God given to us at his initiative.

Sacraments of the Church confer God’s grace. They are outward signs of God’s gift to launch us on the way to the Kingdom of heaven to be with him, to give us strength and power “to stay the course” on the journey—and to advance in holiness.

The call to holiness comes from God, not us. God loves us first; we respond to his love, and without his love, we would be powerless.

Our tendency is to think otherwise. We are so accustomed to making things happen on our own—or at least with the help of other human persons—that almost unconsciously we think that we have to become holy on our own steam.

God empowers us through his Holy Spirit. To be sure, we have a part to play; our task is to be open to, to seek and to accept his grace.

Some candidates for the sacrament of confirmation write to me about their intentions in receiving the sacrament. Sometimes they seem to think they have to make their call to holiness work by themselves. Often enough, they see the sacrament as their task to decide they want to continue to be Catholic. That may be a good intention, but it is not the whole story.

A letter from a young man, Ben, comes close to embracing the fuller meaning of the sacrament. He wrote:

Dear Archbishop Buechlein,

I am writing to you to ask a very important question. Will you accept me to become a full member of the Catholic Church? As I have grown older, I have wanted to become more involved in the Church. I want to further my faith in order to benefit others.

The Church has been the foundation for my values and my beliefs. I try to keep my thoughts pure. Also at school, I try to stay away from people who are troublesome.

In April, the youth of our church are going on retreat. Hopefully this will be a good experience.

Some day, I will be an adult. As an adult, I want to be a Christian because my conscience guides my habits and my habits are influenced by my morals. My morals come from the Church.

Sincerely, Ben

Ben writes a good letter. He seems to understand that confirmation completes the fullness of his baptism, and that the sacrament also completes the fullness of his relationship to the Church.

He expresses a mature awareness of his membership in the Church. I’m confident that he understands that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are represented by the Church.

He also understands that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given in order to help him “benefit others.” In other words, the Spirit empowers him to help spread the faith.

Ben counts on the sacrament to strengthen him to live a good life and, though he doesn’t use the words, to become holy.

In the section on the sacrament of confirmation, The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes what we mean when we say “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry ‘Abba Father!’;
  • it unites us more firmly to Christ;
  • it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (#1303).

“Although confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective” (#1308).

Otherwise, Ben’s letter is a good reflection of the Catechism.

(If you wish to be confirmed, please talk to your pastor.) †

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