My dear friends, as we celebrate today the sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion we bring these young people into full membership in the Church. Recently I went to Notre Dame College in Wilcox to celebrate Confirmation there. Over the past years, however, I have found that I was being asked regularly to celebrate all three sacraments of Initiation. This year three high school students were baptized, seven additional students were Confirmed and two of these made their First Communion.
I thought to myself that this is really going against the trend in our society. Young people are more likely to be drifting away from the Church today, not getting closer to it. Yet we find that young people and indeed people of all ages are still approaching the Church, seeking to receive these Sacraments of Initiation in order to become members of the Catholic Church. Parents still bring their children to complete their Initiation into life as Catholic Christians as you do tonight. We might well ask “Why is this?”
What is gained by being a member of the Catholic Church? Our life here in Saskatchewan provides us with an abundance of many things. We have prosperity, we have freedom, and if we are willing to spend the money we can buy just about anything we want. Yet despite our material prosperity, there are deeply personal needs that the world that surrounds us, with all its wealth and material riches, is not able to meet.
We still have questions about our life: why am I here? Where is my life going? We still have our fears and worries. We still encounter pain and heartache. We deal with tragedies in life, with loss and disappointments and great discouragements. Despite our prosperity, all is not brightness and joy for any of us. We all encounter periods of darkness and uncertainty. These are realities in everyone’s life and what we buy at the mall cannot reach or help us.
So what can help us? When the worries and fears of life weigh us down, Jesus, who died and rose from the dead and conquered the powers of death and darkness, says to us:“Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”
When we fragile human beings don’t know what direction we need to take in our life, when we don’t know what is true and what is just misleading hype, when we don’t know why we are here or where our life is going, Jesus says:“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
When we are forced to confront the reality of death and its unsettling and fearsome finality, Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
So people continue to find in the person of Jesus, in the teachings and the life of Jesus, a place that they can put their faith and a way that they can live their lives that gives them answers to their deep questions and that also gives meaning to their lives. And so people continue to decide to become members of that community of people who are the Church of Jesus. And when they do that, Jesus also makes them one with him. Jesus makes us one with him, one with God as we live our lives.
We know that we live our lives in a world that is filled with turmoil and danger. If God is present to us, why is there so much darkness and suffering?
To answer that, we go back to our beginnings, to the story in the Bible about Adam and Eve. It’s a story we all know well. It gives an answer the questions about why the world is so messed up, why we have so much violence and hatred in our world and in people’s hearts. After all these centuries, why do we still experience the horror of war when we obviously know better?
Here in Canada we have peace. None the less, we have all watched on TV as the Canadian military caskets came home from Afghanistan. We continue to hear today of the terrible toll that the reality of war has taken on the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters whose minds and souls were damaged by war’s horrors. We watch the news about the Ukraine and wonder why this continues to go on.
Why is there violence and hatred? Why is there bigotry and injustice? We human beings are capable of so much good. Why do we seem to be so incapable of pulling ourselves free from all these dark and destructive things? Why do we suffer so much?
The story of Adam and Eve tells us that God created us for love, for peace, for justice, for harmony and for life. However at the very beginning of our human race, our first parents rejected God and separated themselves from God. And when we were separated from God everything fell apart. Ever since that time, every human being is born into a world separated from God and so our human life is constantly afflicted with heartache, darkness and death.
So, when Jesus makes us one with God again we are given great hope. Instead of darkness and death, Jesus gives us light and life. Jesus did battle with death and darkness on behalf of all of us; and he rose to a new life in which death and darkness have no power. In our baptism we were born anew into that life. It was a new creation.
You parents gave your children life, your human life, your genes, your family and your history. Your have cared for that life in your children. You have helped them to develop and have nourished them. You train them to be strong and able to live their lives well. In the life that God gives us, the life of the Spirit, we see a similar process.
In the sacraments, the Risen Jesus himself gives to your children a new life. In baptism they are born again into the life of God, in Confirmation Jesus breathes into them the fullness of his spirit and gives them gifts which enable them to live this new life successfully and well and in the Eucharist Jesus nourishes and makes them strong with the food of eternal life. This is a wonderful gift. And I know that it makes parents happy to see their children receive these gifts from God.
To help understand this giving of life, this breathing into us of the holy Spirit, I am going to ask you to do something for me. The word for “spirit” in the original languages of the Bible is the same as the word for “breath.” So I would ask you to take a big breath; breathe in.....breathe out. Once more breathe in...breathe out. So say with me: “Spirit means breath....” Now can someone tell me what happens when you stop breathing?...That’s right, you die. So now say this with me: “breath means life...”
In Confirmation Jesus breathes into us his own risen life, the life of God. Will Jesus ever die again?..... Does God ever die?..... No, God’s life is forever. So now say with me “God’s life is forever.... So then when I have God’s life living within me, I am able to live ???....for ever.
Now we perhaps have a little insight into the meaning of Confirmation as a gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a gift that enables us to know where our life is going. Our future is eternal life in all its fullness, filled with the joy and love that is God.
And with the gift of the Holy Spirit to us, there comes as well the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us. These are gifts that enable us to live well both the life that our parents gave us and, as well, the life that God has given us when we were born again in baptism. When we are not sure of what to do or where our lives need to go, we have within us the gifts from God of wisdom and understanding, of right judgement and knowledge.
When we face life’s darkness with its frightening threats we find within us the gift of courage to overcome the darkness. And when we grow in our communion with Jesus our risen Lord and with God our Father who make their dwelling within us, that oneness with God is intensified by the gifts of reverence and wonder and awe.
We are well aware that we live out our lives in a world which is marred by what Saint Paul called the works of the flesh. It is a world separated from God. We see around us all the time a society which is damaged by irresponsible and self centered sexuality. A society which Pope Francis has described as having a new golden calf to worship: money; a world which is filled daily with division and strife, jealousy and anger and fighting. And to escape this people flee to drugs and alcohol and sexual promiscuity.
This worries parents, for they know that their children will have to go out into this world and live their lives
What encourages us is that we know that God has given us a different way of living. St. Paul says we have been given the gifts to see in our lives the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
I believe that this is why parents are so happy to have their children baptized, confirmed and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, the food of eternal life in the Eucharist. And I believe that is why people today continue to turn to the Church and become Catholic Christians. They seek guidance, stability and truth in their lives. They want this brighter way of living, this is a way of living that is Good News for all of us.