This Saturday, we celebrated the confirmation of a number of young men and women from our parish at the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
I remember my confirmation day in the winter of 1995. Archbishop Flynn presided that day, and I remember seeing him after the Mass, and he made a suggestion to me that I might consider becoming a priest. Needless to say, I took him up on it and he ordained me 12 years later.
As I shared last week though, our faith life is always a journey. I at times struggled with going to seminary and wondering if I was making the right decision. I even had some doubts leading up to the day I got there, but I trusted in the promptings of the Spirit and it all worked out. The same is true on the day of my confirmation. I remember that having mixed emotions. It was a joy to be confirmed, but my faith was still very much something I was working out (and indeed still am working out, as we all are). I remember even being a little unsure of all that the Catholic Church taught, struggling with some things. But I continued through the faith formation classes that year on Wednesday nights, and despite some mixed emotions in my heart, I walked up and the bishop (Bishop Welsh was co-presiding that day) placed the oil on my forehead on my hands, as I heard the words “be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
Afterwards, there were the photos, a family meal, some cards and cake with grandma and grandpa. But looking back now as a priest, I can think about exactly what was going on that day. And if I were to sum it up, I’d say it was grace working on me. Confirmation was my accepting the faith, but it was also my encounter with the Holy Spirit who was coming into my life in a special way at that moment to give me more strength for my life long journey. Even if I had some struggles at that moment and questions, God was working on my soul and leading me to a deeper place. So how does this happen in us?
At our confirmation, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us as we take a next step in our faith journey. We call it “confirmation” because it confirms and strengthens the grace we receive at our baptism.
You’ll find many different explanations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and one I came across was written by Minneapolis native Laura Jean Rabiipour, who now writes for “The Catholic Company,” an online religious goods site that also features various Catholic articles. Here’s a quick synopsis of the 7 Gifts of the Spirit:
The Gift of Wisdom is our ability to value spiritual things over worldly ones. It enables us to desire the things of God and correctly order the things in our life. This gift helps us view the world through God’s perspective and the light of our faith. It instills a desire to contemplate the things of God.
The Gift of Understanding helps us grasp the truths of the faith more easily and profoundly. Our human intellect cannot grasp all of God’s mysteries, but through the gift of understanding we can be lead to truth, even when we do not fully comprehend. This gift strengthens our insight through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments.
The Gift of Right Judgment/Counsel acknowledges the difference between right and wrong and bestows proper judgment. A person with right judgment avoids sin and leads a life for Christ. Counsel inspires us to speak up and encourage others to do the correct thing. It bestows upon us prudence, allowing us to act promptly and rightly in the face of difficult situations.
The Gift of Courage/Fortitude sustains our decision to follow the will of God in any situation. It allows us to stand up and defend our faith, even when threatened by bodily injury or death. This gift allows us to be steadfast in our decisions to do well and to endure evil even when we do not want to.
The Gift of Knowledge is awareness of God’s plan. It is not simply an accumulation of facts, but rather an understanding of God’s purpose and how we ought to respond. Knowledge helps bring to light the temptations that we face, and to discern whether to give in or live a life worthy of God’s approval.
The Gift of Piety or reverence is our obedience to God and our willingness to serve him. It is not just obedience through a sense of duty or obligation, but rather obedience out of love and devotion. It facilitates a deeper respect and honor for God and His Church.
The Gift of Wonder and Awe/Fear of the Lord makes us aware of the glory and majesty of God. This gift is also synonymous with the “Fear of the Lord”, in which we dread sin and fear offending God. We fear displeasing God and losing our connection with him because of our love for Him. Wonder and awe increases our desire to draw closer to God and depart from sin.
Through our Confirmation, we are united more closely to Jesus, and get the strength from the Spirit to continue on our journey. And looking back, I can see these at play. The Holy Spirit helped me to appreciate and understand my faith in a deeper way. Knowledge helped me to understand my vocation. Fortitude helped me to make the leap into seminary. Counsel helps me so often in making decisions as a Christian and as a priest. As you can see, the Holy Spirit is a very big deal – and hopefully we think about the Spirit more than just on Pentecost Sunday.
As our lives go on, there is so much for us to sort out. Where to go in life, what our vocation is, right and wrong. It’s a series of decisions and steps that can bring us closer to God. Free will is given to us, but to help us make the right decisions the Holy Spirit is sent. Please join me in praying for our newly confirmed. May our candidates and all of us remember that we are all working towards something far greater than power and prestige in this world. We are striving for heaven – and the Holy Spirit helps us get there with virtue. It’s up to us to respond.
A big thank you to all who have helped these young women and men to respond to God’s love – to our catechists and to our parents and sponsors, and to Mijanou Sampers who has been working very hard coordinating the program as we finalize our new director of lifelong faith formation.
May God bless our newly confirmed, and may all of us who have celebrated this sacrament realize that when we received the Holy Spirit in a special way on our Confirmation day, that day was not an end to faith formation, but a continuation of our faith journey. Faith formation is truly lifelong – let us strive go grow in our faith daily through the grace of the Spirit.