In the sacrament of baptism, a catechumen (a person of at least seven years of age who is asking for baptism) or a godparent (a person who actually speaks for an infant or small child asking for baptism) is asked during the celebration of the sacrament: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” The proper response to this question is simply: “Faith!”
This is a recognition that the faith required for baptism is not a perfect and mature faith. On the contrary, it is only a beginning of a life of faith that is then called to develop. As the catechism states, “for all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after Baptism” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1254).
THE SACRAMENT OF GROWTH
All living things grow. For example, while the life of the plant is already present in the seed, it takes time for this life to develop and fully emerge: “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28). Of course, the seed will also grow of its own accord, out of the sight and control of the farmer. This is important to note since Jesus affirms that, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:26).
It should come as no surprise, then, that St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the effect of the sacrament of confirmation on the spiritual plane of life corresponds to this same law of growth we see in operation on the physical plane. Confirmation, through the infusion of the fullness of the life of the Holy Spirit, further energizes the seed of faith planted in baptism to grow into that fullness of communion with Christ for which we were made. And like the seed of a plant, this growth also takes place out of our sight and control.
YET, ACTION IS REQUIRED
While the physical seed of the plant and the spiritual seed of faith grow on their own, action is still required. In the case of the former, the seed must be sown. This is an intentional act on the part of the farmer. Then, the farmer must nurture, protect and water the plant as it grows. For the latter, we must say “yes” to the sacrament of confirmation. We must choose to receive the gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit into our lives so that the seed of faith planted in our baptism might mature. Then, we must nurture, protect and nourish the life of the Spirit as it grows within us.
ATTITUDES THAT DEVITALIZE
While we cannot coerce the life of faith to grow, there are certainly attitudes that can negatively impact its ability to grow. For example, it has been said that confirmation is a sacrament in search of a theology. This attitude diminishes the significance of the sacrament, making it possible for some to question the necessity of the sacrament altogether.
For others, especially many of our young people, confirmation can come at a time when their interest in participating in the sacramental life of the Church is lukewarm, or even waning altogether. For these, reception of the sacrament is hardly a voluntary choice. For those who do go through with receiving the sacrament,
confirmation can be viewed as a graduation from faith formation (and sometimes the Church), as spiritual adulthood has been reached. Both these attitudes short-circuit the life of faith for, as a wise priest used to say, “faith won’t grow if you don’t want to know.”
Then, there are those who are on fire with the faith at the time of their confirmation (we see this especially with those entering the Church through the RCIA process). In their zealousness to grow in holiness and communion with Christ, they can sometimes attempt to hasten their development through some exertion of their own. This violation of the law of growth, of course, can lead to impatience, to anxiety over results and possibly to the giving up of hope altogether that the seed that was infused with strength at confirmation will ever germinate. How many times do we see those who enter into communion with the Church fall away again?
The crucial point is that the life of faith that is planted at baptism, strengthened at confirmation, restored to health in reconciliation, and nourished by the Eucharist is fragile. Its growth can be stunted and even destroyed by our indifference and mortal sin.
Christ instituted the sacrament of confirmation through his sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. Through this sacrament, we receive an increase in that grace we received at baptism that enables us to live in holiness as a daughter or son of God. Like all the sacraments, confirmation is a gift to us by Christ out of love so that we may have life to the full.