An Army that Intends to Win
Last weekend, our oldest child was confirmed. I've never seen a full-blown confirmation ceremony before, because my husband and I were both confirmed by priests (with permission from the bishop) in small, private ceremonies. The sacrament was the same, but this mood this time was very different: the bishop was there, with his gleaming mitre and gilded crosier and concelebrants; the Knights of Columbus filled the aisles of the church, the altar boys were out in full force, and there were nearly thirty candidates for confirmation, all young, lovely, and, as least as I could tell from my seat, solemn and sincere. There was nary a Desiree or Destinee among the saints' names chosen. There was an Ignatius; a John the Baptist; an Agnes of Rome.
The DRE told me that she thought there were at least a few genuine conversions of heart over the course of the prep classes, and I believe her. But did I mention that they were young? So young. They went up, one by one, to be sealed with the Holy Spirit, and went back to their seats, smiling with shyness or confidence; and as I watched, I felt precisely the same way as I feel when I see a baptism: oh, children, you have no idea.
It's not a bad feeling, or a critical one. It's a sensation of joy and anticipation, with a tiny bit of fear, as I see someone bathed in grace, innocently unaware of how that grace will begin to work once the dressy clothes are washed and put away, and daily life resumes. It's the same sensation I have when I see a wedding. So many people think the wedding day is a culmination of something, when really, it's just a beginning.
The Bishop reminded the confirmandi that it wasn't that long ago that they received a cross of ashes on their foreheads, signifying to them that this day is fleeting, this life is fleeting. We will all someday die. Then he reminded them to take note of the new cross that was on their foreheads as he spoke. This was cross made of sweet, spicy chrism, a shining cross which has something new to say: You were not made for death.
Oh, I had forgotten! Just because that is where we are headed, that doesn't mean it was the original plan. And it doesn't mean it's the final word. Being confirmed means you are part of an army that intends to fight, an army that is ready to die if necessary -- but you are part an army that intends to win.
The students were so young. They are old enough that they are not innocent like a baby ready for baptism; but they are young enough that they have barely lived. Most of their life, most of the things that they will learn, most of the things that will turn out to be important and true, are still ahead of them. And they are not made for death. What happens next, after they are sealed and before they meet God to be judged -- this is what remains to be seen.
I didn't realize that this is what all of the sacraments do for us, even Last Rites: they give us a beginning, and they don't ask us necessarily to be completely ready, mature, or even fully prepared. When we receive grace, we are young -- inexperienced, poor in knowledge and understanding. All that God asks is that we are willing to receive Him. All He asks is that we remember that we were not made for death. And He asks us to act accordingly.