Twice in the past week I met two grandmothers who were really worried because their grandchildren had not been baptised. This is a problem that neither of them could have foreseen or expected. To a certain extent they still live with the values and customs of an earlier generation, and baptising a newborn baby was one of the central issues of rearing a family. One of the grandmothers confessed to me that she had performed a provisional rite of Baptism on the children, totally unknown to the parents, and she wanted my opinion on that!
This led to a discussion about the early evolution of Baptism in the Church. She was surprised to discover that in the early days of the Church, uncertain about the fate of a child who died without receiving the sacrament of Baptism, it became customary for parents to improvise a sort of do-it-yourself form of Baptism, just in case the person died before reaching the age of admission to the sacrament.
This developed, and became the norm, to such an extent that, when the bishop did eventually arrive on the scene, all he had to do was confirm what had already taken place. It was at this point that Baptism became 'splintered', and ended up as two sacraments. In other words, what the bishop did became a separate sacrament, and, instead of just confirming what had gone before, it came to be the sacrament of Confirmation.
My reason for trawling through the history and evolution of these sacraments was to isolate that word Confirmation. It has a very important meaning, other than just being the name of a sacrament. John the Baptist told the people that he baptised with water, but there was One among them who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The cleaning properties of water are quite limited. Even if the stain is removed, a forensic scientist could easily discover where the stain had been. Fire, on the other hand, changes things utterly. When a rusty gilder of steel is thrown into the furnace, it comes pouring out of the crucible with all rust and dross completely removed. Baptism with the Spirit sets the heart on fire, and a purifying process ensues. "Enkindle within us the fire of your Divine Love."
St. Paul met a group of believers in Ephesus, and he asked them an unusual question. "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They answered "We have not even heard that anyone may receive the Holy Spirit." Paul then asked "What kind of baptism have you received?" And they answered "The baptism of John." Paul then explained "John himself spoke of another one who was to come, and that one is Jesus." Upon hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
I spoke at the beginning of this paragraph of my desire to isolate the word 'Confirmation'. I isolate it simply to give it a broader meaning, and a wider application. As well as being a sacrament, the word 'confirm' means to make another feel worthwhile and appreciated. Your willingness and your ability to confirm another person, and make that person feel worthwhile, is the surest sign that you have the Holy Spirit within you. If you don't have the Spirit within you, you certainly cannot give anybody confirmation. Most likely, you will avail of each and every opportunity to knock them, to put or pull them down. Every one of us can give Confirmation to those around us. It is among the most important work of the Spirit.
I often joke that if you want to hear something good about a person in Ireland, you have to go to his funeral! Everybody is saying lovely things about him. It would be wonderful if you could have your funeral during your life-time! You could take a tape-recorder to the funeral, and record all the lovely things they're saying about you, and, when you are down and depressed, you could take out the tape and play it. "Send me the flowers now, be they pink, or blue, or red. I'd rather have one blossom now that a truckload when I'm dead." Please send me the flowers when I can still smell them. They'll be no good to me on my coffin!
Confirming others is an anointed and special way of treating others. Any of us can do it, and everyone around us needs it. If we're honest, we will readily admit that we all love the words of affirmation and encouragement from time to time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is a hunger and thirst within us all for the word of praise and of recognition. 'Treat others as you would like them to treat you' is a very wise dictum indeed. There is an idiom in Irish which says "Praise the young and they'll come".
Only last night I spent some time listening to a young lad playing the guitar and singing. He had a good voice, and is an excellent musician, but he was nervous and slightly embarrassed. I spoke very positively about the quality of his singing voice, and about the definite talent that he possessed. As I continued to confirm him, his voice grew firmer and more confident. Soon he was in full swing, and I marvelled at the transformation that was taking place right before my eyes.
It is sad that we can so easily forget just how we can confirm and encourage others in their growth, and in their lives in general. Our own self-esteem, or lack of it, is the biggest barrier. If I cannot think positively about myself, I have nothing to pass on to you. The day I feel good about me, I think you're ok too! But God help you on those days when I'm not on the best of terms with myself! Even the dog could get a kick on such a day!
"What a wonderful world it would be" if each of us took seriously our capacity to build up those around us, and to make them feel worthwhile. There is absolutely no scarcity of material out there. Just as some people cannot give confirmation because of their negative approach to themselves, so some people cannot accept praise or affirmation, because of the same reason. It is important, however, that we continue to give; but it is also important that we're not telling lies, or saying things that we ourselves don't believe. Surely we can find enough to speak about, without inventing falsehoods. There is a kind of circular effect going on here. The more positive and healthy our own self-image is, the more we see in the other that is worthy of confirmation. If we cannot see anything good in the other, the problem may very well lie within ourselves.