Imagine yourself in the middle of an ongoing war, the two sides battling back and forth to put themselves in a place of command over the other side. However, there is never a clear victor in the midst of the fighting. The war goes on and on without either side gaining dominance over the other. Now, imagine that this war has been going on for close to 100 years. That means, not only your parents, but even your grandparents and probably your great-grandparents lived through the very same war that you are living through today.
Then, apparently out of nowhere, you hear that the most unlikely of heroes, a teenage girl, has stepped up, and led a brief campaign to bring the war to a decisive end.
Perhaps such a scenario is hard to imagine but this is the true story of Saint Joan of Arc. Regarding this incredible event, Mark Twain comments, “In seven weeks, [the war] was finished. In seven weeks [Joan of Arc] hopelessly crippled that gigantic war that was 91 years old” (Joan of Arc, Twain). Through her efforts, she became one of the great heroes of France. But for us, she also exemplifies what our next sacrament is all about.
In Baptism, the “gateway sacrament” into the life of grace, the doors to salvation were opened before us and we became a member of the Family of God. And, while the significance of Baptism cannot be emphasized enough, still, it is only the first of the sacraments that our Lord gives to us. In the other sacraments, He continues to summon us into deeper relationship with Him, challenging us to reach greater heights and to be holy as God is holy.
After Baptism, the Church lists Confirmation as the next sacrament in order. Confirmation has been called the sacrament that gives us “the completion of baptismal grace” (Roman Ritual, Rite of Confirmation, Introduction 1).
And one of the main themes which runs throughout the Church’s explanation of Confirmation is that of being a witness. Receiving Confirmation, in the mind of the Church, makes the recipient a public witness to Christ Jesus. Now, becoming a public witness may not sound like a big deal. But for the mind of the Church, the notion of witness is used to call to mind the image of Joan of Arc…the image of a warrior. Only, in the case of Confirmation, we don’t enlist as soldiers for the U.S. military, but rather as spiritual warriors for our Lord and His Church.
If we think of Baptism bringing us into the fold of the Church, it is through Confirmation that we are given the duty of being sent out as official ambassadors, official witnesses, for our Lord and His Church.
In the first centuries of Christianity, before it was legal to be Christian, the notion of being a witness for Christ was most perfectly exemplified in the lives of the martyrs, those who gave up their lives for Christ. Today the Church emphasizes that this role of being a witness to Christ summons us “to spread and defend the faith by word and action” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1303).
The article for next month will focus on the Rite of Confirmation. Specifically, we’ll look at how the form and the matter deepen our understanding of this Sacrament.
Father Michael Bovino