Confirmation empowers one courageously to confess Christ, for in this sacrament, as Vatican II says, the recipients are “endowed by the Holy Spirit with special strength.” Confirmation presupposes baptism. In baptism one becomes an infant in divine life, able to do what is necessary for personal salvation; in confirmation one is made mature, with the spiritual power—confirmation’s sacramental character—to profess the faith publicly. Thus, confirmation is a principle of the whole of Christian life considered under a certain aspect, namely, as a share in the Church’s work of communicating or handing on divine truth and love.
Vatican II teaches that every member of the Church is to share in the apostolate. The apostolate is not limited to the clergy, nor do lay people share in it only by helping bishops and priests. The witness of Christian life and deeds of mercy are capable of drawing people to God; indeed, any good act which expresses Christian faith and love can be apostolic. The Church’s teaching about confirmation and about apostolate make it clear that confirmation is the sacrament of apostolate.
An individual’s specific apostolic responsibility is determined by his or her personal vocation. Confirmation therefore organizes the Christian’s life to the extent it is organized by personal vocation; personal vocation is the medium by which this sacrament structures the whole of one’s life as apostolate. Every act in a Christian’s life should be done in Jesus’ name, give God glory, and so carry out the apostolic commitment proper to confirmation. The Church’s apostolate requires that the personal vocations of Christians be differentiated but that Christians cooperate in carrying these out. Because the whole of life should be lived apostolically, a mature Christian should reserve no area or type of activity merely for self-indulgence; rather, every act for every good should contribute positively to carrying out one’s personal vocation.
The strengthening graces of confirmation are needed to fulfill a Christian vocation consistently, for in one way or another every Christian witness will be a martyr. Christian holiness—fidelity to God’s loving plan—is rightly perceived by the wicked as a condemnation; their negative reaction is inevitable, and every Christian must be prepared for it. Moreover, fulfillment of one’s Christian vocation also requires strength because of the intrinsic difficulty of the vocation, which is contrary to limited self-interest and worldly security and precludes the abandonment of vocational commitments in the face of difficulties.
In making decisions about one’s personal vocation, the help of the Holy Spirit is required, and this calls for discernment. Discernment is not concerned with what is true in matters of faith or morality, for this can be settled by learning and applying what the Church teaches; rather, the work of discernment is to recognize one’s own motives and to form probable opinions about the possibility of relying on and cooperating with others. Discernment is practiced by using the indications of Christian faith, moral convictions, and ecclesial life, by prayerful preparation and close attention, and finally by following one’s inclination or predominant impression. Subjective criteria (a sense of joy, peace, and so on) may be needed to complete the discernment but do not apply when there is the least counterindication from faith, Christian morality, or the requirements of Church order.
Certain forms of prayer are especially relevant from the point of view of personal vocation and apostolate. Such prayer should help one to recognize God’s presence, seek God’s will in every event, see Jesus in everyone, judge temporal things rightly, and distinguish one’s own apostolic objectives from God’s will.
The saints are our models and intercessors, but they also have another role of particular relevance from the perspective of our personal vocations and apostolate. Not only do we carry on in general what the saints were trying to do, we can appropriately view ourselves as the colleagues and co-workers of those whose apostolic work was the same or similar to ours. Above all the other saints we honor Mary, whose personal vocation is a unique exemplar for all other human beings called to share in Jesus’ redemptive work.