Pentecost: Veni Sancte Spiritu! This Sunday’s readings tell us that the Holy Spirit first descended on the early Christians with “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and appeared like “tongues as of fire.” After this they “began to speak in different tongues” so that the people gathered in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” could hear them “speaking in his own language.”
That same Holy Spirit descended on each of us in Baptism, and came again to strengthen (“confirm”—see below) His gifts in us in our Confirmations. By the baptismal indwelling of the Spirit we were united to the Divine life of Jesus Christ, and in Confirmation we were given the gifts to live the fullness of the faith amidst the great challenges of world. These gifts help us individually to get to heaven, by loving God and our neighbor, but they are also meant to help us proclaim the Gospel to all those around us, just as the first Christians did.
And the Holy Spirit does not merely come to individuals, He comes and dwells in the Church as One Body of Christ. Because of this no gift of the Holy Spirit is meant merely for personal enhancement separate from the Church, or contrary to the unity of the Church.
Let us pray to Christ and His Father, to renew in us the powerful presence of their Holy Spirit within each of us and within the whole Church. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to use His gifts to become the Christians we are called to be.
Speaking of the Sacrament of Confirmation. (By popular request, this is basically a repeat from last year’s column). This Tuesday evening, May 22, Bishop Burbidge will be here to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to our 8th graders and few others. Congratulations to them all! The sacrament, however is not a “graduation.” Rather, it is the beginning of a new stage in the Christian life, as they receive the strengthening of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, along with His seven-fold gifts, to participate more fully in the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
Many people are confused about this sacrament. The key, it seems to me, to understanding this sacrament is to understand the word “confirm.” Webster’s gives two basic definitions for the word: “1: to give approval to: ratify … 2 : to make firm or firmer: strengthen…” It is the second definition that defines our sacramental use of the word: Confirmation is about the Holy Spirit strengthening us.
Some think, for example, that the word “confirmation” means that the sacrament is the opportunity for the young person to publicly “ratify” their faith in Christ and His Catholic Church (i.e., the first definition of the word in Webster’s), which they couldn’t do when they were baptized as babies. But that is not the case, and anyway, they do that every Sunday when they proclaim the Creed (I believe in God…). Remember, a sacrament is something God does, not something we do. As the Catechism (1308) teaches: “we must not…forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need “ratification” to become effective…”
Others think the sacrament is when the child “becomes an adult.” Again, a misunderstanding. As the Catechism tells us: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the “sacrament of Christian maturity,” we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth…” Confirmation does give us the grace we need to live out our faith as adults, but the grace does not make someone who is a child into an adult—it only gives a child who is growing into an adult to face difficult adult decisions, etc. with the fullness of grace they will need.
Still others think that because Confirmation is usually the last of the “Sacraments of Initiation” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) to be received that it therefore makes us “full members of the Church.” To be absolutely clear: we become full members of the Church at Baptism. However, Confirmation and Eucharist strengthen our bond with Christ and His Church, and enable us to live out our part in the Church’s mission more perfectly. So, Confirmation, “renders our bond with the Church more perfect” (CCC 1303).
A much more appropriate short description of the sacrament is that, “it makes us soldiers for Christ.” However incomplete it is, it still communicates the strength of the sacrament and the gifts given for determined (though peaceful) proclamation of the Gospel and defense of the Church.
But let’s consider the more full and comprehensive description given by the Catechism:
“1303 …. Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation [sonship] which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross: “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence…” [St. Ambrose].
1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.
1305 This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex officio).”
Mormons and Boy Scouts. Last week the Mormon Church announced it was ending its 105-year partnership with the Boy Scouts of America (soon to be known simply as “Scouts BSA”). In their statement the Mormons said: “we need to…fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever.” Sounds familiar.
Parish Debt. I mentioned here last week that we should be paying off the parish debt very soon…. I will be making a special announcement about this at all Sunday Masses this weekend….
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles