I don’t think it is news to anyone that the life we are called to live is far from easy. Jesus warns his disciples that they will be hated, rejected, scorned, and judged. He calls us to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. As He struggles to carry the very cross that will be used in His own crucifixion, and as He is mocked and jeered at by the people He had trusted, we are called to follow in His footsteps. This is why Confirmation can seem a little scary. For the first time on our own, we freely choose to become full members of the Catholic Church, which means that we say “yes” to a life of suffering; we agree to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus’ example. Confirmation takes courage. I was in eighth grade when I received my Confirmation. Freely accepting a life full of suffering and rejection is a pretty intimidating task for an eighth grader! Sometimes, though, I think I forget that the burden of taking up our crosses daily is only half of the story, because God is not calling us to take on this suffering by ourselves.
When we offer ourselves to God in the sacrament of Confirmation, He offers us Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit. He offers us His constant presence, His constant comfort, His constant love. At first glance, it’s easy to think that Jesus was alone on the road to Calvary. His disciples, His friends, everyone He associated with during His time on Earth seemed to have abandoned Him. And yet, He was never alone. Simone of Cyrene helps Him carry the cross. Veronica wipes His face. As He is dying, He commends His spirit into the hands of His father. If Jesus didn’t carry His cross alone, then why should we? We live in a very individualistic society. We succeed alone and we often resign ourselves to suffer alone. Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty affecting the Western world is the poverty of loneliness. This is where our deepest pain and our deepest fear lie. Ultimately, it isn’t carrying our cross that we fear—it’s the belief that we have to carry it on our own.
During Confirmation, when we promise to hand ourselves over to God, He makes us two promises: that we will have a cross to carry, and that we will have the Holy Spirit to help us carry it. I think we often tend to focus on that first promise, and we become afraid. I know that I often forget that the Holy Spirit never leaves my side, encouraging me, supporting me, picking me up when I fall, and sharing in my burden when my cross becomes too heavy. Before Jesus is crucified, He tells His disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:16-18). At the same time that we accept a life of suffering, we also accept God’s help, His love, and His support. Even when we struggle to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, we can think back to that second promise that God made to us at our Confirmation, and remember that throughout our suffering, we will never be orphans.