Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Confirmation, Sermon of May 29th

A youth is confirmed in the Usus Antiquior

6th Sunday of Easter
May 29th, 2011
Acts 8:5-8,14-17

They sent them [i.e. the newly baptized Samarians] Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

No matter what President Obama might tell you; and, no matter what any politician might tell you – Life begins with conception. From the first moment a child is conceived and through till his birth, that child is a human person with all the dignity of a human being.
There is nothing lacking to a newly-conceived child, but he is a full and complete human being. However, although the child is in himself fully and completely a human person, nevertheless we admit that the child must grow into adulthood. Not that there is anything lacking in the child – for life and humanity begins with conception and continues through to birth – but we admit that human nature demands also the natural process of growth into mature adulthood.

This relation between the infant child and the grown adult has been used by the Church Fathers and theologians as an analogy for the relationship between baptism and confirmation. At baptism an individual becomes a Christian and is truly and really incorporated into the mystical body of Christ, the Church. From the moment of baptism, the soul is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit and lives a new life in Christ. There is nothing lacking to the Christian soul reborn in baptism, excepting that there is need for a growth into spiritual maturity.
Just as the newly conceived or newborn child is truly a human person and yet must grow into adulthood, so too the baptized must come to spiritual maturity – And this is precisely what the sacrament of confirmation does. As baptism give the soul a new birth into Christ, confirmation brings that soul to maturity in the Lord. The confirmed are no longer simply children, but have become adults and even soldiers for the Kingdom of God.

This reality of spiritual maturation from baptism to confirmation is the subject of the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke tells us that a group of individuals in Samaria had been baptized by St. Philip – and this is Philip the deacon, not Philip the apostle. These newly baptized had not yet received confirmation and it was on this account that the Christians in Jerusalem sent the two apostles, Sts. Peter and John, to pray over them and lay hands on them, that these Samarians might receive the graces of confirmation.
St. Luke goes so far as to say of these Samarians, the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them – not, of course, that they had in no way received the Holy Spirit; for, in baptism, they had been filled with the Spirit and with the grace of the whole Trinity. But St. Luke says that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, meaning that they had not yet received the fullness of the Holy Spirit – for they had only been baptized and had not been confirmed.

From this event, we see just how necessary confirmation is. The Church teaches that, in a qualified sense, confirmation is necessary for salvation. Let me be clear: Confirmation is not simply and absolutely necessary in the way that baptism is necessary. However, St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a helpful analogy when he says that confirmation is necessary for salvation in the same way that a horse (or, we should say, a car) is necessary for a long journey. True, we could travel hundreds of miles by foot, but anyone would know what I meant if I said I needed a car in order to travel from New York to Los Angeles.
Confirmation is necessary for salvation not as though salvation cannot be attained without this sacrament, but insofar as the sacrament is the most fitting (and ordinary) means of coming to salvation. Confirmation brings us to the perfection of the Christian life begun in baptism. Likewise, confirmation bestows upon us new graces which bring us more perfectly and completely to the perfection of salvation.

When we consider the importance and even the relative necessity of confirmation – in addition to the fact that it completes and perfects baptism – we can quickly understand just how important this sacrament is for our Christian lives. It is the grave importance of confirmation which has led our diocese and many dioceses to lower the age of confirmation to the same age as first communion.
Now, to be very clear, I am not saying that what was done in the past was wrong or bad – it worked for the time and had certain pastoral benefits to it. Still, when we consider how important the sacrament of confirmation is and also how many graces it bestows, we can easily see that this sacrament ought not to be delayed so long.
Perhaps in years past, in an age when there was much less temptation and perversion in the world, we could afford to postpone confirmation until around junior-high or even high-school. But today, with the world in the state it is in and all the many evils which are thrown at our children, how could we not want them to receive the helps and the graces of this sacrament? Certainly, there are some drawbacks to moving confirmation up to a younger age (just as there were some advantages to the previous practice of delaying confirmation); however, when we consider the objective value of the graces of the sacrament and consider these graces in light of the horrible perversions of the modern world, it seems pretty clear that our kids can use all the help that they can get. And what better help than the supernatural sacramental graces of confirmation?

Finally, when we think of the graces of this sacrament, recall that the Holy Spirit has called you and chosen you. He has elevated you and built you up through confirmation. And so, when you feel exhausted or stressed, when you doubt whether you have the faith and the courage to carry on, whenever you are tempted to discouragement or despair – recall that you are no longer a mere child, you are now a soldier for Christ! The Holy Spirit is at work in you, what have you to fear?
The grace of almighty God is more powerful than any force in the world. The outcome of the spiritual battle you wage is already decided, if only you will remain faithful to the Lord and follow the new life which is being perfected in you through the graces of your confirmation.