Reflection: Why Do People Get Confirmed?
by Father Don Thomas
Some two thousand years ago God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world as the Babe of Bethlehem. Thirty years later, Christ died on the cross to make possible our salvation, thereby giving us a chance to go to Heaven. Jesus gained enough grace for the whole world to be saved, making it clear that those who take advantage of that grace will enter the Kingdom of God.
As light dispels darkness, grace supplants sin and makes the soul holy and pleasing to God. Before He died, Jesus took all that love and grace and wrapped it up into seven little packages that we call the seven sacraments.
Just as people are able to communicate ideas by talking or writing, they are also able to communicate through signs. Deaf people have their own sign language and are fluent in sharing their ideas. And those who are not deaf also have their own signs of communication, such as stop signs, and traffic lights. Even as children when perhaps we had done wrong we understood the meaning of Daddy waving his finger in a motion that said “come here young man”. He did not have to say a word and we knew the meaning of the sign language.
In Latin, how do we say the word “sign”? Sacramentum. Hence we have the origin of the seven sacraments and the seven external signs that Jesus gave us as the sign language of God.
The seven sacraments are seven signs that are visible to the senses, and are therefore external. To these seven signs Christ attached the gift of His grace, and it is up to us to share in that grace as a branch shares the life of a vine or a tree. That is precisely why Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches”. Another good analogy that helps us understand what Christ has done for us is the situation in which a husband and wife, as instruments of God, communicate life to a baby. A child shares the life of the mother and father, and a child of God is one who shares in His divine life, the gift of grace.
There are seven external signs through which we can share in God's life. They are Baptism, Confession, Communion, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and the Sacrament of the sick. The seven sacraments are often compared with seven tanks of spiritual oxygen. What natural oxygen does for our bodies, the spiritual oxygen that we receive does the same thing for our souls.
The first tank of spiritual oxygen we get hooked up to is, of course, Baptism. This is true for both Catholics and non-Catholics. It is the most important and necessary of all the sacraments because it is very possible that a person could die and not receive any of the others. That soul would go straight to Heaven. Christ brought out the necessity of Baptism when he said, “Without Baptism you cannot enter the kingdom of God”. Elsewhere in scripture He say, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned”.
That is very strict and clear. How can anyone say that Baptism is not important, or stupid, or meaningless? What I would say to those people is “If Jesus did not mean what he said, why did He say it”? He meant exactly what he said and He brought out the importance and necessity of Baptism in the story of Nicodemus. Recall how Nicodemus came to visit Jesus at night, wanting to ask Him a very important question. Keep in mind that Nicodemus came at night because he didn't want any of his friends to know he was talking to Christ. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and did not want to lose his job. Members of the Sanhedrin were not friendly to Christ. Nicodemus found Christ and asked him this question: “What does a guy like me have to do to gain eternal life”? Jesus said, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.
This really surprised Nicodemus, and from his reaction he had no idea of what Christ was talking about. He asked Jesus how a man, growing old, can be born again. Does he re-enter his mother's womb? That was how confused Nicodemus was, but give him credit because he was not afraid to ask Christ questions. I imagine Christ must have been tempted to smile a bit and say to Nicodemus something like this: “Nicodemus, if you came around here once in a while like theApostles, I don't think you would have asked that question. What I said has nothing to do about re-entering the womb. When you are born of your mother that is natural birth. Here we are talking about the supernatural life of the soul.”
Jesus wants us to know that through Baptism we are born again, and that we are restored to the life of God through a gift that is called grace. You see, when God created man and woman they lived with God, but lost the privilege, or gift, of sharing life with God when they committed sin.
For thousands of years man did not share life with God until God decided to send His son, Jesus, into the world to suffer and die for our sins. This gave us the grace to make possible our salvation. Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding banquet, and He said that when it comes time to die, the soul must be adorned with the wedding garment of grace in order to enter the kingdom. We receive that first gift of grace through Baptism, lose it through serious sin, but we can regain it over and over again by being sorry for our sins and strive to be deserving of God's forgiveness. That is the reason we have Confession, or as it is more correctly called, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Then, of course, we have Communion, because Jesus called Himself “The Bread of Life”. We eat bread to nourish our bodies, and we take Holy Communion to nourish and strengthen the spiritual life of our soul.
At long last, what about Confirmation? I apologize for taking so long to get around to the Sacrament of Confirmation. However the background I have given up to this point is absolutely necessary if we are to understand where Confirmation fits into our lives.
Recall how boys and girls on their 12th birthday are quick to let us know that they can't wait for their next birthday. When we ask them “why”, they all answer in the same way that you and I probably answered, “Because on my next birthday I become a teenager”. When we ask them why that is such a big deal, they usually answer by saying something like “Now maybe Mom and Dad will stop treating me like a little kid” And this is so true. They are no longer children. They are young adults, now ready to deal with accountability and responsibility more seriously. They are now young men and young women. This is where we find the reason for getting confirmed, for these young adults are saying in effect that my parents have been speaking for me up to this point in my life, and now I want to start speaking for myself.
And so, when they are confirmed at about 15 years of age, they are saying that they no longer want to be treated just as a “child” of God, but rather as a soldier in the army of Jesus Christ. After about two years of preparation they now understand that, as confirmed Christians, they will be fighting for Christ, not with guns or bullets, but with their time and talent, witness and example, and by getting involved in the many ministries now open to the laity.
In the Holy Bible we read about Pentecost Sunday and the first Confirmation class ever. We read how the Holy Spirit disguised His divinity under tongues of fire, came down upon the group, fortifying them in their faith and in the grace of God. Their lives were completely transformed, and from fearful followers of Christ they became fearless witnesses, capable of speaking and understanding different languages.
Those who get confirmed are also looking for that type of transformation in their lives. They want the grace and faith that they received in Baptism to be firmed up, to be made stronger, enabling them to fulfill the mission of Christ here on earth. They are now ready to be dedicated and committed followers of Jesus Christ as they journey through life, seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.
| Return to Fr. Thomas' Biography Page
Return to The Journals Cover Page