This Thursday evening (May 26), 68 young men and women from our parish will receive the sacrament of Confirmation at the hands of Bishop Frank Caggiano. With the reception of this sacrament, they will be fully initiated members of the Catholic Church, and will have received an increase and a deepening of what they first received at their Baptism. In particular, they will receive a fuller share of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. But does any of this matter? How is Confirmation actually relevant to our lives?
There is a story from the Old Testament (2 Kings 4:1-7) that sheds light on what the sacrament of Confirmation does for us. In it, the prophet Elisha meets a widow who cannot pay her debts, and whose creditor is threatening to take her children as his slaves. Her only possession is a single jug of olive oil. So, the prophet tells her to go to her neighbors and borrow as many empty jars and jugs as she can, and bring them back to her house, where she is to begin filling the vessels with oil from her jug. Amazingly, the oil continues to flow, and it doesn’t stop until she fills all of the empty vessels with the oil from the first jug. The prophet then instructs her to sell the vessels of oil to pay off her creditors, using what remained to care for her family.
In the scriptures, oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit because of its many important uses in daily life. At Confirmation, the bishop anoints the recipients of the sacrament with sacred Chrism, olive oil perfumed with balsam essence. With the anointing, there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Like the story of the prophet Elisha and the widow, the one who has received this outpouring of the Spirit is to be a vessel of grace that shares the Spirit with the empty vessels they encounter at school, at work, at the store, and at home. This is how we who are fully-initiated members of the Church live out our baptismal vocation to holiness, by helping others know the joy of life in the Spirit as a disciple of Christ.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen described Confirmation as “the great social sacrament, that binds us to the world, to our neighbor, to humanity.” All around us we encounter the empty vessels of neighbors who are aimless and spiritually destitute, whom Christ longs to fill with the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, I think it is providential that Confirmation will take place on Ascension Thursday, the beginning of the 10-day period in which we live in anticipation of Pentecost. It is a time in which we who have received the great gift of Confirmation pray for a refreshment of grace within us, perhaps making a good confession to empty ourselves of the sins we’re attached to so as to make more room to receive the Spirit, whose seven gifts enlighten and empower us to share with others His life that we have received.