The Catechism says that the grace we receive from the sacraments “heals and transforms” us (CCC 1129). This begs the question, what are we being healed from and what are we being transformed into?
We often think about sin as rule breaking, as violating God’s law. While this isn’t wrong, the Catechism also talks about sin as a “wound,” something that harms the very core of who we are. We are wounded by our own sins, the sins others commit against us, the structures of sin in our society, and simply living in a world broken by sin. These wounds are precisely what the grace of the sacraments heal. Whether it’s sin itself (like in Confession or Baptism) or the physical effects of sin (like in Anointing of the Sick), the sacraments heal us. Jesus is the Divine Physician and the sacraments are the medicine he gives us.
But God doesn’t just want to heal us. He doesn’t just want to undo sin or bring us “back the Eden.” God wants to transform us. The Catechism says, “As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power” (CCC 1127). The sacraments transform us into God’s own divine life. At Mass when he mixes water with wine before the consecration, Father prays, “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Not only does God want to heal us, he wants to make us into another Christ. As Saint Augustine taught, through the Sacraments “not only have we become Christians, we have become Christ himself.”
That’s the purpose of all the sacraments, including Confirmation. During the Confirmation Mass, Bishop Boyea will pray, “Let us pray to our Father that He will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen His sons and daughters with His gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ the Son of God.” We’ve inherited the idea that Confirmation is making a commitment to God, as if our parents spoke for us when we were baptized as a baby so Confirmation is the ritual where we choose to be Catholic on our own. But this idea isn’t true. Confirmation is God confirming our faith, our identity as his child, and our mission to be another Christ in the world.
This is illustrated by the teaching that Confirmation “perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC 1288). At Pentecost, the Apostles didn’t make a public commitment to Jesus. No, they were anointed by the Holy Spirit and empowered to go and continue the mission of Jesus in the world. As soon as they received the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went out to preach the gospel and perform miracles. The Holy Spirit made them more like Jesus so they were able to do the things Jesus did. The ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop, that is, a successor of the Apostles. There’s a direct lineage of ordination between Bishop Boyea and one of the Apostles. So when the bishop anoints a candidate with oil and says, “be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” he’s anointing that person with the same Holy Spirit that anointed his predecessor 2,000 years ago in the upper room.
But we aren’t merely passive recipients of God’s healing and transformation. While God gives us his grace through the sacraments regardless of the righteousness of the minister or the recipient, the effect of the sacraments depends on the “disposition” of the receiver (CCC 1128). In other words, God is like the sower planting seeds in all types of soil, but the fruitfulness of the seed depends on the soil. We can block the effect of God’s grace in our life with our lack of desire and disposition, which is precisely why the Church teaches that we must prepare ourselves to receive the sacraments. We need to foster a life of prayer and holiness in order to fully receive the grace God is always offering to us.
The students being confirmed this week have spent months preparing for what God wants to give them. Corey and I have helped them develop a habit of daily prayer where they not only bring their cares before the Lord but they hear his voice and guidance in their life. We’ve helped them understand that going to Mass and Confession is essential for living a holy life. We’ve helped them know and desire the mission God has created and empowered them for.
Please pray for these twenty-six students, that they will receive all that God wants to give them and experience the healing and consuming fire of the Holy Spirit in a new and profound way.
And if you’re interested in receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation yourself, whether you’re a high school student or an adult, please contact me and we can begin the process of preparation for this great gift.