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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I was confirmed in the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil Mass. 

I won’t retrace ground already covered in some recent columns here at TCT, except to mention that, although I converted to Catholicism more than a quarter century ago, I’d managed to skip Confirmation. So: better late than never.

Because I was the only adult in our parish receiving the rite, I alone was the focus of attention following the Liturgy of the Word, although more people in the packed church probably took notice of my sponsor than noticed me: George Marlin is tall as a tree. So this was, you might say, my own private Pentecost.

I chose Bernard as my Confirmation name, after Bernard of Clairvaux, who was – in my humble opinion – one of the three greatest saints of the Middle Ages, the others being Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas. No man I know of had quite the same balance of literary genius, worldly savvy, and profound holiness as did the so-called Mellifluous Doctor. May he join my guardian angel and the Holy Spirit in watching over and guiding me!

I told Ray Belair, the distinguished attorney and catechist who chiefly guided me through the Confirmation process (and my recent Church marriage), that on the eve of my first Communion in California in 1973 I’d told the priest who’d brought me into the Church that I expected the top of my head to explode when I received the Body of Christ. The priest had frowned and said: “Perhaps you should lower somewhat your expectations.”

“I feel pretty much the same way now about my impending Chrismation,” I told Mr. Belair. (I actually talk like that.)

Ray suggested the California priest’s advice might apply here as well.

But my entire life has been leading me to become a “soldier of Christ.” I know of course that the mark given me on Saturday night did not instantly imbue me with wisdom, understanding, right judgment, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe, but these are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I pray that I may in some small way have justice bound around my waist, and faithfulness as a belt upon my hips (Isaiah 11:5). G.K. Chesterton described the faithful warrior, as “a soldier surrounded by his enemies,” who: 

. . . if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. 

Bernard of Clarivaux by Andrea Sacchi (1650)

I’ve been: selected for teams; invited to join societies; initiated into a fraternity; served on boards; even offered the chance to be a knight of this or that. But never have I wanted anything more than to be a good Christian; never sought belonging to anything more than to be confirmed in the Catholic faith.


I pray that through wisdom my eyes will always look more to heaven than earth. “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide . . .” (That’s Isaiah too.)
I pray that through understanding the truths of our faith will come brightly and starkly into focus in my perfervid brain. “That I may know You,” St. Augustine wrote, “may I know myself.”
I pray that through the counsel of the Spirit I may always act in ways that reflect God’s love. “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” (1John 4:8)
I pray that through fortitude I’ll never fear to proclaim the truth that is Jesus Christ – temperately but even unto death. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” (Romans 1:16)
I pray that through knowledge I’ll always see the world as it is: know it, love it, change it. Give the Devil his due while rejecting him. “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
I pray that through piety I’ll continue to link my life to the life of the Church. Please God, help me to please you, “to live in a manner worthy of the Lord . . . in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God . . .” (Colossians 1:10).
I pray that I will evermore fear the Lord. As we express abhorence of sins in contrition: “I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love.” 

May all the Sacraments enable me to receive the Spirit for the rest of my life. I picture our High Priest daily, as at the end of Mass, taking this vessel and scouring it, polishing it. I’m in need of polishing: to be a gleaming sword as much a spotless chalice; to cut cleanly through enemies and to worthily receive New Wine.

In the words of John Henry Newman, “all timidity, irresolution, fear of ridicule, weakness of purpose, such as the Apostles showed when they deserted Christ . . . are to be numbered . . . childish as well as sinful.” The great man went on to write that overcoming such sins ought not to be a matter for self-congratulation but regarded more simply as a first step “towards being but an ordinary true believer . . . and a small attainment indeed in that extended course of sanctification through which the Blessed Spirit is willing to lead every Christian.”

Brad Miner
, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason InstituteThe Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition.. One of his books, 

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