I recently finished a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, by Robert Lewis. One of the many valuable suggestions in this unique and compelling work is the creation of ceremonies that celebrate stages of maturity. These ceremonies are not merely for father and son, but for communities of fathers and sons. They serve to give the young man self-knowledge, ideals, and support.
Ceremonies marking rites of passages are not new to mankind, but with the disintegration of American culture, ceremonies are often overlooked. It seems that there was a time when the many cultures that formed our union melted into the pot we called America. Not so much anymore, as we shift to encourage multi-culturism, which whether intended or not, affirms division rather than union. It is true that our many ethnic threads strengthen us and richly texture our nation. But being a naturally inclusive and friendly people, we have chosen a celebration of division, so that what defines America – both internationally and domestically – has become increasingly difficult to state.
This morning when we celebrated Holy Confirmation in our parish church, I was thankful for this moment of definition. The bishop laid his hands upon the heads of the confirmands as they knelt on the steps leading to the altar. As Anglican-Catholics, we believe that Confirmation marks publicly the moment when children become adults in the Church. For adult confirmands it marks a new adulthood in the Church, as they witness to their beliefs. The younger confirmands are asked to confirm the promises that were made for them as infants in Baptism. They are of an age of reason, no longer children, and they can promise with understanding. “Do you promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” the bishop asks them. The bishop then prays that they be strengthened by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and that they be given the Holy Ghost’s gifts of grace: wisdom and understanding, counsel and ghostly strength, knowledge and godliness, and lastly, holy fear.
They will need these knightly gifts, I thought, as they live out their faith in a world often hostile to Christianity. They shall don the shield of faith and the armor of righteousness, and the Church, the Body of Christ, shall comfort and nurture them throughout their lives, through marriage, childbirth, sickness, even in their dying. God shall never abandon them. As a shepherd he shall lead them beside still waters. He shall restore their souls.
It was particularly fitting, on this bright Sunday morning as September gives way to October, that we celebrated these Confirmations, these confirmings of faith and receivings of the Holy Ghost, on the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels. As the lector read from Holy Scripture, we heard the account of the great war in heaven when Michael the Archangel threw out Lucifer and his angels. “The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him… And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony… Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:7+)
Angels and devils are not common beliefs today. We might speak of angels whimsically as though reliving the fairy tales of our childhood. But devils are definitely not the stuff of acceptable conversation. Yet Scripture affirms their existence. Demons are said to be angels – pure spirits created separately from mankind – who have rebelled against God and now are given a span of time to scurry among the people of the earth, wreaking havoc where they can and undoing the good that is being done.
The good angels, however, are with us too, and we can call upon them. They are all around us, if welcome. And Confirmation – that affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ – welcomes them. These angels help us to be modern-day knights. They guide us on our journey on earth as we head to heaven. At times, I believe, they protect us from bodily harm. Dear friends of mine recently survived a rear-end collision, emerging from their totaled sedan shaken but, it turns out, having suffered only minor wounds. Angels were there, I am sure, as the drunk driver slammed into their car, stopped at a red light. Angels took some of the brunt of that crash.
So with ceremony and prayer and song, with ritual and the dance of the Eucharist, we re-affirm who we are, what we are, where we are going. We re-affirm to whom we belong, and with the company of the angelic host we are given our own wings to heaven. With the gifts of the Holy Ghost we are embraced by the Body of Christ.