Confirmation: How to Confront and Smite Smaug
Confirmation: How to Confront and Smite Smaug
The Hobbits' Quest
JRR Tolkien's epic story, The Hobbit can teach us something about a holy and noble quest. The hobbit Bilbo Baggins joins a band of dwarves. At the urging of a wizard, Gandalf the Gray, they embark on a quest to reclaim his lost kingdom from Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon. Bilbo is led out of his world of comfort and into an adventure where he learns what it means to persevere in fortitude, sacrificing himself for the good of others. He, through heroic love, became a hobbit for others.
He is called to a hero's journey, to agape love and to courageously confront evil. Bilbo must help overturn the evil of a kingdom and be a virtuous witness to others. In short, he is called to mature in the Faith. According to Joseph Pearce, “Bilbo Baggins shows us how to grow up…He begins as a self-centered person who doesn’t want to explore why the truth, why the possibilities. Doesn’t want to risk himself, doesn’t want to sacrifice. And through the course of the journey he grows up. And grows up doesn’t just mean growing in size but growing in stature.”
Through the sacrament of Confirmation, we Catholics are on a quest toward an encounter with Christ too. The quest for Christ is the quest for holiness. Holiness can only happen after we fight the battle within, the war against our own fallen nature. It requires detachment and death to selfishness. We, like Bilbo, must dare to overcome the dragon sickness of worldy attachments. After battling Smaug both within and without, we unlikely pilgrim-warriors, we hobbits, hope to reach our true home - the heavenly Shire.
The problem is most of us forgot what the sacrament of Confirmation is about.
Perhaps no sacrament is more misunderstood than Confirmation To begin with, What does the verb ‘confirm’ even mean? It turns out that there are two definitions. One is that ‘confirm’ means to verify something as being true. For example, to confirm the story that the defendant is telling. Can you ‘confirm’ that this is true?
The next definition is to make something strong, to edify or to make firm. To ‘confirm’ is to strengthen. Working on the campaign ‘confirmed’ my desire to enter politics. Therefore, the verb confirm means both to strengthen and to verify.
Both meanings are applicable to Jesus’ Confirmation and ours. That's right, I said Jesus had a Confirmation. As the Holy Spirit descended over him right after he came out of the waters of baptism, Jesus was declared by the Father to be the ‘beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’. This announcement is a verification or ‘confirmation’ of the Sonship and of the divine identity of Jesus the Christ, as the second person of the Trinity.
The second meaning of the verb confirm is to strengthen and fortify. This strengthening, this confirmation, also happened when the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on him. In Luke’s account, immediately after the Baptism, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the harsh solitude of the desert for forty days of fasting to finally confront the Enemy. The Spirit would not lead Jesus into a hostile situation without strengthening, fortifying and equipping him for the test.
Once confirmed, the Holy Spirit never left him. This is why Jesus, later in his ministry said, "The Spirit of the Lord is Upon me…”. Though Jesus didn’t need to be Baptized or Confirmed like we do, it was the will of the Father that he demonstrated these great mysteries in his own life, as the one without sin, who identifies with our sin and our desire for holiness.
The Grace in Confirmation
The divine life is given to us first at Baptism and then we are sealed with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. We receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted at Pentecost. By increasing and deepening baptismal grace, Confirmation unites us more firmly to Christ and Church. Finally, it imprints on the soul, the Seal of the Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, or ownership of an object. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal. “With oil he anointed your head, your forehead, in the God-given sign of the cross, so that you may become that which is engraved on the seal, ‘a holy thing of the Lord’” (St. Cyprian of Carthage). Like character in Baptism, this seal of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation is irreversible and permanent.
This completion of Baptism is necessary to carry out the missionary mandate, which is to spread and defend the Faith. As fearless witnesses of Christ, we profess the name of Christ boldly and are never ashamed of the cross. We are ready to swim upstream against the currents of a corrupt and anti-Christian culture.
Equipped for Batlle
Spreading and defending the faith isn't easy. It usually means swimming against the current of the culture. Sometimes we fail to resist evil in the world because we are afriad. We lack grace and life-giving agape love that only the sacraments give. “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” -G.K. Chesterton. Jesus demonstrates, when he was in the desert staring down Satan, that we are in for a counter-cultural, spiritual battle. Hence we are equipped with weapons and armor and special supernatural powers or gifts of the Spirit.
It was common in my grandparents' day to call the members of the Church on earth as the ‘church militant’. Now, we commonly refer to the visible church as the ‘church on pilgrimage’ or Status Viatoris which means the state of being on the way. We are on the way to meet Jesus face to face at the moment of our death as a peaceful pilgrim rather than a militant soldier.
When teaching and learning about Confirmation, the militia imagery of soldier or knight is appropriate as long as we are clear that we are not talking about carrying out violence and physical war. It is not a war with people but rather a war with the devil himself. We don’t fight out of hatred but out of love. Like Bilbo the Hobbit, we may be undersized, awkward and unqualified yet we are still required to confront fire breathing dragons.
As St. Paul describes this Smaug-like dragon as unseen, non-material evil forces, ”... our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground...” (Eph 6:12-13).
I believe we can recover a balance between both the militia motif and the pilgrimage theme in Confirmation. To this end, I offer the word ‘quest’ which means a long or arduous search. When I hear the word quest, I think of knights on the way to a distant, hostile land in search of their heart’s desire. The phrase, “Knights on the way” is a perfect fusion and balance. To those of us who have been Confirmed in the Catholic Faith, let us be knights (or at least meek hobbits) on a holy and noble quest to confront and smite Smaug wherever we find him.