Homily for the Conferral of Confirmation
My young friends, having already received the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, today’s Confirmation will complete your Christian initiation. From today onwards, you will have everything you need to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
This sacrament is called Confirmation because the faith given in Baptism is now confirmed and made strong. During our Baptism, our parents and godparents took responsibility for forming us in the faith; by being confirmed in the Church we accept responsibility for our own faith. As a sign of this we renew our baptismal promises.
It is customary to have a confirmation name, taken from a saint or biblical figure whom we admire and whose protection and guidance we seek. We also have a sponsor, who plays a role somewhat similar to a godparent at Baptism. In this way, we have both earthly and heavenly support as we take this step into spiritual adulthood.
We believe that when we are confirmed we receive a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our soul and are strengthened to live the Christian life. Scripture and tradition speak of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which we receive in a special way in the Sacrament of Confirmation: wisdom (knowing what really matters), understanding (knowing how we ought to live), counsel (knowing how to judge between right and wrong), knowledge (of God), fortitude (courage), piety (reverence), and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe).
Now, God is all-powerful. He could just zap up from above and achieve what takes place in Confirmation, or in Baptism, and so forth. But he knows that we struggle to believe in things that we can’t see. So, in his generosity, he has given us in the sacraments physical signs—things we can see, and feel, and hear, and taste—and these are not only a sign of the invisible realities taking place, they are also the means by which they take place. God has taken everyday physical elements—water, oil, bread, wine, etc.—and he uses them as the means by which he shares his power and grace with us. It’s a remarkable thing!
So for example, the bread and wine used the Eucharist is a symbol of Christ’s body and blood, but we also believe that it actually becomes Christ’s body and blood. The water in Baptism is a symbol of the spiritual cleansing taking place, but we also believe that it actually is what makes this spiritual cleansing happen. In the case of Confirmation, we are anointed with a specially consecrated oil—called sacred Chrism—which is a sign of the Holy Spirit, and which actually gives us the Holy Spirit in a new and deeper way. As part of the ritual, the bishop (or the priest appointed by him) lays his hands over us and prays that we be “sealed with gift of the Holy Spirit”. To be sealed means that God claims us as belonging to him in a particular way. Because of the COVID situation, I have to apply the sacred Chrism with a cotton bud this year, instead of my thumb.
And then there’s the famous slap, which I must admit is one of my favourite things about Confirmation, and which is something the candidates are always fascinated by as they’re getting ready to receive the sacrament. This is the first year I get to be the main celebrant at our confirmations, and really, one of the biggest tragedies about the whole COVID situation is that I can’t administer the slap this year – I’ve been working out and everything! (I’m just kidding. Kinda.)
When explaining the rationale behind the slap, I always like to compare it to the ritual of a soldier being knighted in the Middle Ages, with the sword being touched on the shoulders by the king. If you think about it, that’s a pretty vulnerable situation to be in—the king could just go “off with your head”—but in a sense it’s a way of preparing the knight for the fact that being a knight is hard, and they’ll face many difficulties as they strive to defend the kingdom.
Well, being a Christian in our world is also hard, and the slap is a way of saying “brace yourself”. Don’t forget, our Lord was treated harshly by the world, and ultimately, put to death by the world—and the disciple is not greater than the master—so we should expect opposition ourselves as we strive to follow our Lord in the midst of the world. And it’s not just opposition from the world – a lot of the times it’s just fighting against ourselves. It’s making the effort to go to Mass each week when we’d rather sleep in. It’s making the effort to pray when we’d rather be doing something else. It’s refraining from being selfish when we have a chance to be generous. It’s having the courage to go to confession, even if we’re feeling too embarrassed. It’s putting others first, out of gratitude for all that God has given us.
However, at the same time as the slap is given, the minister says, “Peace be with you.” And the peace being referred to there is the peace that Jesus said he came to bring – a peace the world cannot give, and a peace the world cannot take away. This is a peace that we have access to not just when things are going fine, but also when we’re in the midst of great difficulties. As so it’s precisely as we receive the slap—a sign of the opposition we may face from the world for being a follower of Christ—that we are offered the supernatural peace that the world is not able to touch.
My young friends, the Sacrament of Confirmation which you are about to receive is a source of great power – such as when the risen Jesus told the Apostles that they would “receive power” when the Holy Spirit came down upon them, and that armed with said power they were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Now, in our day and age, we have been thoroughly trained to view power with great suspicion, as though it is always something that corrupts us and turns good people bad. And, looking back over human history, we see good reason for a healthy dose of scepticism regarding worldly power. But this is not the full story – there is a type of power that is not only good, but necessary.
A truly Christian understanding of power realises that the most important kind of power is not gained from having the most political influence, or having the biggest army, or having the most money – for a Christian, real power comes… from being a saint. Real power comes from keeping one’s eyes always on the Lord, and allowing him to have his way in our life. In the eyes of the world, such an approach to life may seem like foolishness. But as Saint Paul once declared, God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
This other-worldly power is most clearly seen in the witness of the martyrs—men and women who gave their lives for their faith in Christ (and a number of out candidates have chosen martyrs for their Confirmation saints). On the surface they were destroyed by the world, just as Jesus was seemingly destroyed at Calvary. But with the eyes of faith we can see that their deaths were actually their greatest victories… because by dying with Christ, they shared in his Resurrection, and now they share his glory in Heaven. This is the power of the saints – that even the smallest of things they do or endure—if done in union with Christ and out of love for him—are given eternal significance.
Christianity is not just about being good, or about striving to help others. Lots of non-believers can be good and generous people. Nor is Christianity just about following a bunch of rules or having certain beliefs. The rules and beliefs are important, but they are secondary. First and foremost, Christianity is about a person – a person who loves us intensely, and who asks us to love him in return.
My young friends, maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating over and over: Jesus knows you – he knows you better than you know yourself. And Jesus loves you – he loves you more than you love yourself. So he can be trusted. And his plan for your life can be trusted. So don’t just strive to be good. Strive to know Jesus Christ more and more, strive to love Jesus Christ more and more, and strive to serve Jesus Christ more and more.
As you get older, you may have some questions about it all – the faith, the Church, God. That’s fine – search away. Look for the truth – but commit to seeing it all the way through. Because we also believe that the Truth is a Person – that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And so any genuine search for truth will ultimately lead a person into the arms of the living God.
And so, as you become today full members of our Lord’s Church, I plead with you – do not be lukewarm Catholics. Do not be a half-hearted follower of Jesus. We’ve had enough of those. The life of a lukewarm disciple is no fun for anybody, especially for the lukewarm person. Instead, commit now to strive for the only type of life worth living – to be a saint.
Be someone who allows the God to have his way in your life. Be someone who allows God to use them as an instrument in his glorious work of salvation. Be someone whose life whole-heartedly proclaims the glory of God, so that others might come to know and love him as well.
Because, when it’s all said and done, we have been made for eternity. In the fullness of time, everything in this world will pass away. All that will remain is the grace won from things done for the love of God. That’s what will live on forever. And our way of preparing for this here and now is to strive to do everything for the love of God.
This is the real meaning of the word holiness. Striving to please God with everything we think, say, and do. And this call to holiness is the duty and the privilege that is about to be yours, as a disciple of Christ, and as a full member of his Catholic Church. And so I congratulate you, I assure you of my prayers, and I ask you never to take your faith for granted. God bless you all!