The Sacrament of Confirmation
In Ireland most people celebrate Confirmation around the age of twelve, towards the end of Primary School. Others, following a period of preparation, celebrate the Sacrament as adults. Either way, it is the Sacrament that renews the grace of Baptism. Not only does God confirm his choice of us as beloved sons and daughters. We also confirm that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, a decision which in all probability was made for us when we were children, by parents who wanted to share with us their own faith in Jesus.
In a well-known passage from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit really does make a difference.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5)
Pope Paul VI once wrote “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Young people at the age of twelve are on the verge of adolescence. They show many signs of maturity and idealism, but they are also vulnerable to negative influences and to peer pressure. Neither is enough for us to talk to them on the day of Confirmation about the need to engage in mission. Such talk is empty if we don’t help them to find ways of doing this in their own parish community.
They need courageous parents who are not afraid to witness to their own faith and not afraid either to acknowledge their own struggles. Alongside their parents who, please God, will continue to support them, those who are to be Confirmed are also asked to choose another person of faith to be their sponsor. To be chosen as a sponsor is a privilege, but it also brings with it the responsibility of being an adult witness of faith; someone who will encourage and even gently challenge the young person being Confirmed, to really live the faith he or she has professed. The sponsor must be at least sixteen years of age and must be a practicing Catholic.
There are, of course, other witnesses. They are the saints who, down through the ages have given their own example of faith by lives or “prayer and care”. Some have been teachers and preachers; others have worked for justice and peace. Some have cared for the sick, for children or for the poor. Some have died for Christ, while many more have lived for him. This is why we ask young people to choose a saint at the time of their Confirmation. It is not just about choosing a name; it is about choosing someone who will be an inspiration and a guide. There are Apps and Websites about the Saints, but once you have narrowed down your choice it is worth exploring a little more deeply. There is no better way to become a disciple than to follow the example of those who followed Jesus most closely.
In the ceremony of Confirmation, the Bishop uses the Holy Oil of Chrism, which is a symbol of mission, to anoint the forehead of the person to be Confirmed, saying “John” or “Mary, be Sealed with the Holy Spirit”