I went to my nephew/godson Zeke's Confirmation tonight in Eaton Rapids, and was totally blessed by it! He's growing to be a fine young man, and I love him very much. People I didn't know were telling me what a neat person he is, and I know that God has blessed him. The Bishop of the Diocese of Lansing is not the same person as the Bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, but he does a lovely Confirmation ceremony. It was a little different from the way we did it at our church, but not much. Still, I found myself looking for the deepest meaning in this amazing Sacrament.
First, the bishop asks the people getting confirmed (Confirmandi is what they are called) to renew the promises made for them at baptism. Since a baby's cry is generally not a reliable sign of consent, most of these people had their baptismal promises made for them by godparents and parents until they are old enough to answer for themselves. This was their big chance to speak for themselves. (Mostly they answer "I Do.") By rejecting all that is unholy and embracing that which is Holy, the Confirmandi speak their desire to become full-grown Christian Catholics, ready to go out and be a disciple of Christ, to continue learning their faith, and to strive to be the saint that God calls each of us to be.
There is a lot of incense, and the Confirmandi are prayed for, and sealed with the Oil of Salvation. This is the same oil used at Baptism, since Confirmation is the completion of Baptism. It smells wonderful. It smells like hope, and new babies, and holiness and Heaven. It smells like the Confidence to try courageous things like Joan of Arc, and St. Joseph of Cupertino and Blessed Mother Teresa. It smells like being annointed Priest, Prophet and King, just like Jesus. It encompasses me in its presence and makes me feel one with every Christian who has ever walked the planet or spoken His beautiful name. To say I like it just doesn't do.
One thing this bishop did that was different (and very old school) was that after he marked their forhead with the Sign of the Cross in Chrism he patted them on the cheek. Almost a smack, but not quite. Kind of like your old Italian Grandpa would do while saying, "Ah, You're such a good boy!" There is an actual meaning to this action. It was done to remind the newly Confirmed that being a Christian involves some amount of suffering. Following Christ will cause you some discomfort, but it's worth it.
One thing the bishop did was the same, and I've been pondering the meaning of this action for weeks. After the bishop puts the oil on the students, he rubs his fingers on a lemon, then rubs them on a piece of bread. Hmmm. Perhaps the lemon represents the bitterness of the suffering discussed above. Maybe the bread refers to the "I am the bread of Life..." discussion in John 6. Maybe it's something I don't know yet. What could it be?
Well, I was standing around with Betsee and a priest walked up and asked me who I was. I told him my name, then asked the question. I was all poised to learn some new mystery. Some amazing way to know God on an ever deepening level. "Oh, Father...Speak to my HEART!" my mind cried out! "Well..." He began in an Indian accent, "The acid of the lemon removes the oil from the bishops fingers, then the bread absorbs the lemon juice and any left-over oil."
Really? That's it? Acid trumps oil and bread is absorbent. That's the lesson? No. The real lesson is that GOD LOVES US and wants us to be a part of his life through His Son, Jesus. The rest of the lesson is that you might be trying so hard to unravel a deep mystery that you miss the most obvious thing in the world! Sometimes a lemon is just an acidic fruit! Sometimes bread is just really absorbent, and you can throw it away without oiling up lots of other stuff. Find God where you see God, but don't look so close you can't recognize Him any more!
So quit trying so hard, and let yourself be loved. Love someone today. Maybe someone difficult or crazy or some pot-stirring no-good rabbit-stealing neighbor who may or may not be on Meth. Maybe it's the simplest love that runs the deepest.