A number of factors determine the strength of one’s body: health, nutrition, exercise, alertness, concentration, etc. Similarly, strength of the soul is determined by recourse to and use of a number of good gifts that God gives. St. Paul refers to many day to day factors of spiritual strength when he says:
Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against…masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil… That is why you must take up all God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full. So stand your ground, with truth a belt round your waist, and uprightness a breastplate, wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One. And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God. In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion.
Other sections of this web page go into some details of how to acquire or progress in these factors of spiritual wellness. For instance, the Word of God, the words of God, and faith is discussed in “Why Catholic?” and “Always learning.” Prayer is discussed primarily in the “Why Church?” section. Since salvation as a relationship in which God saves us from many evils has a beginning, a development, and a future completion, “Join,” “Forgiveness,” and “Fulfillment as Man or Woman” are most relevant. Uprightness and eagerness to spread the Gospel are addressed to a degree in “Forgiveness and Healing.” “Serving Together” and “Prepare for eternity” contribute to the theme of resisting evil to the end, especially “on the evil day,” which for many of us would be the day we die. Praying in the Spirit is addressed below.
Two very special gifts by which God strengthens us, which are not part of daily/hourly life, should be discussed in this section.
The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist
The theological term, Eucharist, takes its meaning from a collection of Koine Greek nouns, adjectives and verbs that were derived from their simplest form, εὔχᾰρις. In non-theological Greek, εὔχᾰρις meant,”gracious, courteous, pleasant, lovely, enchanting…charming” (Brill Greek-English Dictionary, 2018, p. 874). Its cognates normally referred to thanking, welcoming, doing favors, and (which sums these up) being pleasant. So it is common to read or hear that “Eucharist” in its religious use means “giving thanks” or “being gracious” to God. That’s minimalist. The Eucharist is a lot more than being pleasant and saying thank you to God. For newcomers, what it really is, in its Biblical meaning, will instead blow your mind. Many think this is what is most wonderful about Catholicism, which preserves all the Biblical teaching. But many of Jesus’ fellow Jews stopped following Him because of it (John 6:64-69), and many of our separated Protestant brothers’ interpretations would reduce the meaning of Jesus’ surprising words to an unremarkable metaphor. εὔχᾰρις is a compound word that, in its religious use, is better understood from its components, εὖ, which means good; and χᾰ́ρις, which means (divine) grace, a theological term meaning God affecting a soul (empowering/helping, enlightening/directing, and/or enlivening/rejoicing it).
It has to do with how God loves us and delivers grace by His touch. Here are some relevant verses.
…God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
1 John 4:8–9
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “…As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus said to them [his fellow Jews], “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
[As reported by St. Luke.] “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
[As reported by St. Paul.] For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 11:23–27
To make the logical connections from what is least surprising to what is most, by way of a summary: Since God’s nature is Love, He desires to come to the world and to the individual to express His love as profoundly as possible. He came to the world at a central historical point as Jesus. That is, the second person of the Holy Trinity added human nature to His divine nature, in order to be with us, teach His love (in a way that could be seen, heard, touched and understood), and demonstrate the fullness of His love for the world, in the details of His countless miracles, His death, resurrection, and concluding ascension into heaven. His message, which has been sent out to all the world, comes (as indicated above) not only as words, but also through His miraculous presence – body, soul and divinity – in what appears still to be bread and wine that individuals can receive into the center of their bodies – and souls. The manner of expression, bread-body and wine-blood, is not silly, but rather full of meaning in connection to His salvific death and resurrection.
This beautiful act of lovingly abiding in Him and He in us sustains, and therefore strengthens, our spiritual lives, to help us reach eternal life in loving communion with Him, as long as we receive Him with due faith, hope and love. The following prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas can said before and after Mass to help us greatly in this regard.
Almighty and everlasting God,
Behold, I come to the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I come as one infirm to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of everlasting brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I implore the abundance of Thy measureless bounty that Thou wouldst heal my infirmity, wash my uncleanness, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty and clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such sorrow and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation…
I thank You, holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, who deigned to feast me, sinful and unworthy servant, with the precious body and blood of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, not for any merit of mine, but only because of Your merciful goodness. And I pray that this Holy Communion, far from condemning me to punishment, may bring about my pardon and salvation, encompassing me with the armor of faith and the shield of a good will. By it let my vices be done away, all lustful desires extinguished. May it advance me in charity, patience, humility, obedience, and every other virtue. Let it be strong defense against the wiles of all my enemies, visible and invisible, allaying for me every disturbance of flesh and spirit, binding me firmly to You, the one true God, and bringing my last hour to a happy close. I pray, too, that it may be Your pleasure to call my sinful self one day to that banquet, wonderful past all telling, where You, with your Son and the Holy Spirit, feast your saints with the vision of yourself, who are true light, the fulfillment of all desires, the joy that knows no ending, gladness unalloyed, and perfect bliss: through the same Christ our Lord.
The Sacrament of Confirmation
The joy of the Lord is your strength.
These words of Nehemiah came to the people of Israel who, after being brought back from exile, rebuilt Jerusalem, gathered to hear the first five great books of the Bible read and well interpreted, and, with much repentance for past sins mingled with joy for God’s new help and forgiveness, wept. “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” As St. Augustine’s great catechism’s book 11, quoted in two parts in the “Why Catholic?” section of this webpage, taught, this joy is a participation in the Holy Spirit.
[F]or our happiness we require Him as the bestower of the delight in our hearts which only He can give.
St. Augustine, City of God, XI, 25
When a person is baptised, spiritual life and virtues are infused by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But one must grow in these virtues, and, especially in light of the trials and difficulties that may befall us in this life, we need special help to grow in those virtues, and practice them effectively with joyful faith, hope and love in opposition to any kind of evil that may be found.
When Jesus prepared the apostles for the catastrophe of His crucifixion and lesser catastrophes that would befall them, he prepared and consoled them in advance, saying:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate/Helper/Comforter, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you…
I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate/Helper/Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid…
When the Advocate/Helper/Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning…
And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned…
He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The power of these words may not be readily apparent, but will become clearer shortly. This promise of a special sending of the Holy Spirit was a promise of the apostles’ confirmation. Here’s what it looked like when it happened to them:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”…
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…
This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ [Joel 2:28-32.]
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear…
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
This was the beginning of the apostles’ great public ministry after Jesus handed the rulership of the Church over to them.
The Holy Spirit knows and responds to the spiritual needs of all peoples of all times. Now, most peoples and times do not need people speaking in other languages, and do not need speeches addressed to those who had recently helped cause Jesus to be crucified. So these things and their like are not what we normally see at Confirmation.
What we do normally see, in those who prepare well for it, and who afterwards continue the work of praying and testifying to God’s greatness in their words and actions, is the beginning of special growth in the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and awe at God’s inexpressible goodness. Sometimes there are miracles (see, for instance, the first video in the Forgiveness and Healing section), but the Spirit’s purpose, and our hope, is to live and transmit holiness, not to astonish people. Astonishment during this life is sometimes a byproduct. The most beautiful astonishment will come for all afterwords, when all the details of God’s plan for the eternal heavenly future of holy people, who cooperated with Holy Spirit and used His gifts, are revealed.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
For more details on Confirmation, please see the section on it in the Catholic Catechism. For some of the evidence of the sacramentality of Confirmation in the Early Church, please see www.catholic.com/tract/confirmation.
Catholic children who have received baptism are now normally confirmed at the age of seven or later. To register, please fill out and bring in the following form (along with a copy of the child’s baptism certificate):