The news headlines remain depressing, of course. Innocents have been killed and maimed in Boston through an act of spiteful hatred. Revelations of the chillingly casual killing of innocents in a Philadelphia abortion clinic continue to seep into our ideologically anesthetized and unapologetic mainstream press. The Affordable Care Act wheezes toward completion for itself, and for the final institutionalization of the social democratic state. And, of course, the nation continues its headlong rush to eliminate the last vestiges of Christianity from our public life as even the most fundamental of associations (the family) becomes the plaything of adolescent ideologues bent on reducing social life to a meaningless stream of individual “choices” guaranteed by an all-protective state.
But right now, while I would not say I do not care about any of this, it seems somehow less important to me than it has in recent months. Why? Because the other day I attended my 13-year-old daughter’s Confirmation.
I am no expert on the subject, but for those who do not know, Confirmation in the Catholic Church is the perfection of Baptism. Through Baptism we enter into the life of the Church, sharing in the divine life of the Trinity and, by acting with faith, hope, and love, growing in grace. But Confirmation is itself a sacrament, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that not only “seals” or confirms our entry into spiritual life, but also provides distinct gifts by which our faith matures and we are enabled to extend our spiritual life, sharing it fully with others and extending Christ’s Kingdom.
My own Confirmation was, I am afraid, rather typical of the time. One is supposed to choose for a Confirmation name a saint to whom one feels a special affinity, to whom one can look as a model. I chose Saint Patrick because it was already my middle name. I remembered something about getting rid of Ireland’s snakes, but do not think I even knew this worthy soldier of God was not even Irish. I assume I chose a sponsor as I was supposed to, but could not tell you who it was and certainly do not remember any real preparations for the sacrament beyond some readings from a “jive Bible” (I am not kidding) and participation in a skit at a retreat of some sort.
But that was me, in California, during the 1970s.
My daughter diligently prepared for two years for her Confirmation. She consulted with her sponsor (a wonderful adult convert who teaches media and runs the library at her school) and chose Teresa of Jesus, usually referred to as Saint Teresa of Avila, for her confirmation name and spiritual model. Teresa was the Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun known for her visions and for, as my daughter put it “yelling at Jesus—but in a good way.” An extremely pious woman living in a time of laxity, she was known as an eccentric (“but in a good way”) who demanded much of people who wished to do little. My daughter tries very hard to be good and virtuous (succeeding far more often than I will ever let her know) and approached Confirmation as her entry into spiritual adulthood. She made me very proud.
I am certain not all the young people confirmed that evening approached the sacrament with the seriousness it deserved. I am also certain that, as a group, they took it far more seriously than those who received the sacrament on that evening in California during the 1970s. And I know that my daughter and many of her friends have self-consciously entered into a life of Christian service, full of faith, hope, and love, and open to the call of the transcendent.
That evening my son, considering his sister’s choice, began ruminating on which Saint he would choose for a model, come time for his own Confirmation. As he considered several names (and lives) I wondered whether, at the age of sixteen (when I was confirmed) I knew as much about as many saints as my son did at the age of eleven. I know for a fact that I cared much less.
These are truly dark times for the American republic. But that republic is not our home. And if we must live through dark times in the secular world in order to secure a brighter spiritual future for ourselves and our children, then God is great and merciful.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.