Holy Spirit’s gifts, patron saints bolster confirmandi’s lives

NienstedtBlIn my last column, I devoted some thoughts to the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation, its origin and its meaning. I would like to continue those reflections again this week by focusing on the effects of this great sacrament.

As was earlier pointed out, the chrism used for the anointing during the confirmation rite derives its name from the same root word as “Christ” and “Christian,” that is to say; “the Anointed One.” Through the grace of baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, helping us to become Christ-like in thought, word and deed. As St. Augustine taught in the fifth century: “We have not only become Christians, but Christ himself!  . . . Stand in awe and rejoice: We have become Christ!” The gift of the Holy Spirit, then, allows us to participate not only in his perfect human life, but also to share in Jesus’ own divine life.

The prophet Isaiah, writing eight centuries before Jesus, predicted what the specific seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit would be:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety, the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-46).

For the past eight years, I have been asking during my homily who can name the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. I do so not to put the candidates on the spot, but to emphasize how important it is to know these powerful gifts that they receive in the sacrament. If a candidate doesn’t know and appreciate what is given, how will that candidate make use of those gifts during the critical moments of life?

One way to remember the gifts is that wisdom and understanding help me to know who I am and why God made me. Wisdom helps me discern God’s plan for my life.

Understanding allows me insight into God’s providential vocation.

Counsel and fortitude, also known as right judgment and courage, assist me in my relations with my neighbor. Counsel helps me discern right from wrong. Fortitude allows me to do the right and avoid the wrong.

Knowledge, piety (reverence) and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe) are gifts that encourage me to keep God at the center of my life. The gift of knowledge helps me to see reality in its relation to God. Piety reverences God as my father. Fear of the Lord allows me to acknowledge the difference between God and myself, motivating me to repent of my sins.

It is regrettable that many Catholics forget or fail to use the gifts given at confirmation. Frequently, our lives are challenged by the secular, material and hedonistic forces that surround us. It is important to remind myself, even on a daily basis, that I have been strengthened by the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit precisely so that I can overcome the temptations that arise.

Another dimension of preparing oneself for confirmation is the selection of a saint’s name. Being young is a time in life when one has heroes to look up to and emulate. I believe it is extremely important for candidates to be introduced to the lives of the saints and to be encouraged to find a saint who can inspire the candidate with his or her virtues.

When I was bishop of New Ulm, candidates would write me letters telling me why they felt prepared to receive confirmation and share with me their confirmation name and the reason behind their choice. I have not made that a requirement in the archdiocese, though I am certainly open to receiving such correspondence.

Finally, I am aware that some dioceses permit the reception of the sacrament at the age of reason, arguing that the proper ordering of the sacraments of initiation places confirmation in second place. This was certainly the case in the early Church, but then candidates were mainly adults.

My first pastorate did mandate confirmation in the second grade and, by and large, I found the policy to be a catechetical nightmare. Instead of preparing for two sacraments (first reconciliation and first holy Eucharist), catechesis was also required for confirmation, which proved more abstract for a second-grader’s young mind. By the time those second-graders got to eighth grade, only two of them were still going to religious education.

Grace builds on nature and so I found the practice in New Ulm of confirming in the 10th or 11th grade allowed for a certain maturing to take place.

Here, we permit candidates to receive after the eighth grade, which has the advantage of making sure they receive the sacrament before high school. I find that this practice is not ideal, but it seems to work in many cases.

Again, I am grateful to pastors, parents and catechists who take seriously the preparation of candidates with a thorough catechesis for confirmation. The moment of its celebration ought to be memorable for the candidate whose spiritual life is utterly transformed with the outpouring of the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s seven-fold gifts.

God bless you!

Los dones del Espiritu Santo y los santos patrones, re-enfuerzan las vidas de los confirmandos

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Category: Only Jesus

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