Earlier on in the spring I visited one of our Catholic Schools to spend a little time with the graduating class, to talk with them and answer any questions they had about our faith. I enjoy doing that with them. The questions sometimes can be very challenging and profound. During this meeting one of the questions was “Why did you decide to become a Catholic?” I suppose this is a very good question to ask an Archbishop.
I thought of that question as I was preparing for these celebrations of Confirmation and First Communion, because these two sacraments are all about becoming a Catholic. They are Sacraments of Initiation into the Church.
When I began to answer the question that was put to me, I told the young people that I didn’t really decide to become a Catholic, my parents decided that for me when, as a newly born baby, I was wrapped up and brought to the Church to be baptized very soon after I was born. Very much, I would suspect, as is the case for most of the children and young people here today to be confirmed and receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time.
So I told the students that perhaps a better question would be: “Why am I still a Catholic?” After all these years that I have lived in my life, why have I decided to remain a Christian, a member of the Catholic Church? This question also touches on what we are doing here today. We could ask: “Why have the parents of these children decided that they want their children to become fully initiated members of the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion.
Now, I cannot answer for anyone else in this church, but I will share with you the reason that I gave to the graduating class on why I am still a Catholic after many decades of life. I have only one life to live. It is all that I have. It is most precious to me. I don’t want my life be without meaning, without purpose; I don’t want my life to simply end in dust of death. I don’t want my future to be the eternal nothingness of death.
Do I have a choice? All our lives end in death. Death’s power over us is absolute.
Nonetheless, Jesus, the Son of God has promised that those who believe in him will live forever. His resurrection from the dead destroyed that absolute power that death has over us human beings. Through the power of his own resurrection, Jesus offers eternal life to me. Jesus offers life in its fullness for ever to me.
My mother made sure that I was baptized very shortly after I was born. She wanted to make sure that if anything happened to me, I would live forever with God. She knew that I needed to be baptized if I was to live with God forever in heaven. She may not have put this belief in theological terms. But she and my father knew that in the sacraments of the Church, Jesus, risen from the dead, continues to do his saving work in our lives. In the sacrament of baptism, Jesus gives us a new life. In baptism I was born into the life of the Risen Christ.
Now I used the expression “in case something happened to me.” Really it would be more accurate to say “In case I got sick and died as a little baby. “
My mother, my parents gave me the most precious gift they could. They gave me life. But they knew that the life they had given me when my mother gave birth to me, as precious and as amazing as it is, could not go beyond death. In their strong faith they knew that Jesus gives a life that death cannot end.
Membership in the Church is all about this life. Baptism is all about this life. Confirmation is all about this life, life forever, life in all its fullness.
In Confirmation we say that we receive the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit. So what is the connection between the Holy Spirit and this life that we are talking of . The notion of the Holy Spirit is difficult for us to grasp. It might be helpful to know that in the Bible the word for Spirit is the same word as breath. Does that help? Probably not. I invite you to take a deep breath... breathe in.... breathe out. Now I need some brave person to tell me what happens when you stop doing that, when you stop breathing?
So then, Breath means life. Say that for me. Say Spirit means breath...breath means life. Does God’s life end? No. God’s life is eternal, and so whoever has within them the life breath of the risen Jesus is able to live forever. It is in the sacrament of Confirmation that you receive today that Jesus breathes into you the Holy Spirit, the life breath of God. Because of that you now have within you the power to live forever. Spirit means (breath) Breath means (life) God’s life is(eternal)When I have God’s life in me then I will live for(ever.)
Now perhaps can understand a little more clearly the meaning of the Gospel reading that tells us that on the night that Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to his apostles. St. John tells us that even though the doors were locked and barred, Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” For a long time I couldn’t really understand why Jesus had to breathe on them. Now I do.
Jesus, risen from the dead, breathed into them his own breath of life, his “spirit’. and they became alive with the life of God. Spirit is ? Breath is ? God’s life is ? If I have within me the life of God, then I will live ?
When Jesus did this, that first Easter night, the church was born. For the Church is all of those people into whom the Risen Jesus has breathed the breath his own risen life. The Church is all of those people who have received from God the gift of life forever, life that does not end in the dust of death.
This is what has gone on in the Church since that first Easter Sunday night. This is what Jesus does today, in this place, to you who will be confirmed. Jesus breathes into you the life breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God. You now know what your future is and it is life forever. That gives us tremendous hope as we live our lives. That gives meaning and purpose to our lives. That is why my parents wanted me to be baptized and that is why I continue to be a Catholic.
When my parents made sure I was baptized very early in my life, it was because they were aware that Eternal life comes only from Jesus. I would like to read for you a part of St. John’s Gospel. It tells about the time when a very close friend of Jesus got sick and died. When Jesus arrived at the village where Lazarus had lived, he had this conversation with one of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha.
(John 11: ) Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.* Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,* the Son of God...”
Now you notice that Jesus didn’t say “I will give you the resurrection,” or “I will bring you to the resurrection,” He said: “I am the resurrection.” “I am the life.” If any human being on earth lives beyond the moment of their death, enters into eternal life, it is because of Jesus and the power of his resurrection from the dead.
I would like to give you one more quote from a sermon that was given around the year 180, over 1800 years ago: I wish that I had written this. Here is what was said:
The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.
He is the one, the Christ, who is present among us here today, He is the one who is calling us to become one with him with every breath of life we breathe, He is the one who brings us into a union of love with Him which will last for ever.
This is why people want to become Christians, to become Catholics. This is why I am a Catholic. This is the future I want at the end of my life.
This is why parents bring raise their children in the Church, so that they will know Jesus and will become one with him and will live beyond death into the fullness of life, as Jesus now lives it and as we will live it.
These children become one with Jesus in their faith in him. They believe that Jesus is the Christ as we do. They become one with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For every time they receive Holy Communion, the life of God within them is nourished by the bread from heaven, the body and blood of the Risen Christ and they become more deeply the Body of Christ. By becoming one with Jesus they will live forever in all the fullness of life.
What great love God has for us. How grateful we can be to God. What wonderful things God has done for us. We can pray the words of Psalm 18, offering it in praise of God, our Father, in praise of Jesus, God’s Son and in praise of the Holy Spirit who pours into us the life breath of God:“I love you God, my strength, my rock, my shelter, my stronghold.”Amen.