Throughout the season of Lent, countless people will be engaged in a process of preparation to either receive the sacraments of initiation or to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. They will be accompanied in their preparation by those who are already initiated, who are themselves preparing to renew their baptismal promises at Easter.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day pilgrimage toward the joy of the Resurrection. On this day, millions of Christians around the world will hear the words, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return,” as they are marked with the dust of ashes. Ashes are a sign of pride—we are marked for Christ; and of humility—we are dust, we cannot save ourselves, we need a Savior. More than a dismal season marked by restricted freedoms, Lent offers us the opportunity to come home to Christ. We are given the time and space to examine the parts of our heart that remain stony, and, with the help of our Lord, turn them into flesh. We are presented with a chance to walk in solidarity with Christ as he journeys to the Cross, so that we too might die to self in order to experience new life.
For many years I heard phrases such as: “religious life is a higher calling than marriage” and “those who choose religious life want to live their lives entirely for the Lord.” But I rarely heard language which edified and elevated the vocation of married life. That was until I took a course with Dr. Timothy O’Malley on the Nuptial Mystery. This vocation, which can seem so ordinary, was illuminated through Scripture and the works of many theologians. I finally was able to grasp intellectually that which I had always known to be true—that the Sacrament of Marriage is holy and sacred, an icon of Christ’s love poured out for us on the Cross.
We frequently focus on Mary’s fiat, her courage to say ‘yes’ to God, using her example as inspiration to surrender to God’s plans, even when we cannot fully comprehend them. However, we often forget to examine the fiat of the man to whom she was betrothed.
When I was 17, I had to get blood drawn. My mom went with me, and the phlebotomist happened to be an old acquaintance of hers. Making small talk, my mom asked the phlebotomist how her daughters were. She mentioned that one of her daughters was going through Confirmation, albeit reluctantly, and that she was encouraging her daughter to finish it “just in case, you know, she ever wanted to get married in the Church, it’s always a good thing to have in your back pocket.” I was so surprised at her attitude, as was my mother, who delivered some smart remark (ever so politely) about how she was pretty sure Confirmation meant a whole lot more than that. I’m not sure why this memory is so vivid, but I’ve never forgotten it.
Though this may come as a surprise to some, Confirmation is not about becoming an adult in the Church, or deciding for yourself whether or not you want to remain Catholic, or graduation (read: freedom) from Faith Formation/CCD classes. (If you were ever under the impression that it was, you’re not alone; at one point, I was too.) And it is certainly not just “a good thing to have in your back pocket.”