Before a woodworker completes a piece of furniture, he must first stain and then seal the wood. Unlike paint, which merely covers the surface of the wood, stain soaks into the wood, permanently altering it, changing its color, and showcasing its grain. But staining the wood is not enough. Before the piece can be used, it must also be coated with varnish, polyurethane, or a similar wood sealant. Only then, when the stain has been sealed and protected, is the wood able to withstand the damage done by repeated use, water, or sunlight. While the stain changes the wood, it is the sealant that perfects it.
In much the same way, Baptism and Confirmation work together to perfect us in faith – to make us “useful” for Christ and the Christian community. Like stain on wood, Baptism permanently changes us. The water of Baptism cleanses us of original sin, welcomes us into the Christian community, and marks us with the sign of faith forever. Confirmation, like a wood protectant, seals the mark of Baptism, perfecting the grace we have received, making us ready to withstand the challenges of living the Christian life.
Some people see Confirmation as a Sacrament of “maturity,” and while that’s true to some extent, the danger of that view is that often Confirmation becomes a Sacrament of “completion.” In other words, Confirmation signifies the end of their religious education and formation. But that would be like staining and sealing a beautiful rocking chair and then never sitting in it. Rocking chairs are meant for sitting. The Christian life is meant for living. And so, Confirmation is not so much an end, but rather a beginning. The seal of Confirmation makes us ready to lives our lives as fully committed Christians.
The Holy Spirit often works quietly in our lives, and so sometimes we don’t see the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation until we reflect back on our lives years afterward. With the benefit of hindsight we can see the Holy Spirit at work; influencing our decisions, shaping and sharpening our moral convictions, and affecting the choices we make about how we use our talents and spend our time and money. The key, of course, is how much we have opened our lives and our hearts to the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive at Confirmation are just that – gifts. And like any gift, they must be unwrapped to be enjoyed. The Holy Spirit blesses us with Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Reverence, Courage, Right Judgment and Wonder and Awe, but we must accept those gifts for them to take effect. The effects of accepting those amazing gifts are what we often call the Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. These are the things we find in our lives as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work.
Confirmation, then, perfects the seal of faith first received at Baptism. It increases the gifts of the Spirit in order prepare us for a life marked by faithfulness to God. Far from being the end of our religious education, it is the beginning of a life closely united with Jesus Christ.
Read more about the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Hear more about the Sacrament: Confirmation (video link)