(At beginning of Mass)
The Irish novelist, James Joyce once made a comment about the Catholic Church – which I don’t think he meant to be complimentary. Nevertheless, it was true – and, we Catholics take no offense. He said: “The Catholic Church means….’Here comes everybody’”. Our Church is a big Church – its so, well, “Catholic”. On the Day of his Ascension in heaven, Jesus gave his apostles the “Great Commission” – to preach the gospel to all the nations. In the Catholic Church, men and women of every race and culture or language and color, find their home.
As Catholics, we are members of more than just a parish family but you are members of one, universal Church, built on the foundation of the apostles and their preaching. This Church filled with the Holy Spirit preaches the Good News of Jesus Christ in all the languages of mankind, this Church, though many as the grains of wheat once scattered on the hillsides, is made one body in the one cup, the one bread we share: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
I greet all of you, our candidates for full communion, our candidates for confirmation, I greet the sponsors and family members who accompany them today. I greet their pastors – and the priests and deacons who join us today. A special greeting to Bishop Michael Warfel from Juno, Alaska, and to our Vicar General, Msgr. Patrick Caverly!
To those who will be received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, to those who were baptized Catholics but were only catechized in your adult years, welcome home!
I began Mass quoting James Joyce, an Irish novelist; perhaps, then, it is only fair that I begin the homily quoting an Englishman. G. K. Chesterton was an English man of letters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He surprised and dismayed many of his friends when he converted and became a Roman Catholic. When pressed for an explanation, he told them: “I became a Catholic so that I could get my sins forgiven.”
That is a pretty good reason. And, if we were to put out a “want ad to seek more converts, perhaps the headline could read, “Sinners wanted”, or “Only Sinners need apply”.
This is important for all of us to remember, especially those of you who will formally enter the Church today by making your profession of faith and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. There would be no reason to become a Catholic if we did not know that doing so was necessary for our salvation. And who would bother if they did not acknowledge themselves to be sinners: that is, that they needed to be saved. Do not be scandalize, then, that the Church which Christ founded to save sinners is, well…full of sinners
That’s why, on this side of Judgment Day, we can call ourselves “practicing Catholics” Our earthy pilgrimage in this “valley of tears” is our one time opportunity to “practice” the Catholic faith until we get it right.
The Church is Holy – and you will give your assent to that proposition in the Renewal of your Baptismal Promises very shortly. The Church is Holy –but not because we, her members, are holy (hopefully, we are working at it, and like I said, it does take practice). The Church is Holy because of the Spirit who guides her. The Holy Spirit sent by Jesus Christ makes the Church his living Body. Through the proclamation of the Word of God and the administration of the Sacraments, that Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and through Jesus death and resurrection the Holy Spirit makes us imperfect, sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, into God’s sons and daughters by adoption.
In the first reading, Jesus tells the apostles: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses …” Today, in the Sacrament of Confirmation, you are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. This seal is called a “character”, marking the person who receives it as called to fulfill the Church’s mission in all the circumstances of life.
Our Catholic faith is not a faith in an ideology or in a serious of propositions. Our Catholic faith is fundamentally about a person, Jesus, who invites us into a relationship of friendship with himself – and with those who walk with him. Before your anointing with the Sacred Chrism, you will be asked to make your profession of faith. That profession of faith based on the Apostles’ Creed is our “yes” to God.
But every “yes” also implies a “no”. Now before you can say yes to someone or something, you also have to say no to someone else, to something else.. And, of course, before you make that profession of faith, you are asked to renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises.
In renewing the promises of your Baptism, in making this profession of faith today, you pledge that– in spite of whatever trials and tribulations you may face – you will walk through this life as a friend of God, as a friend of Jesus and in the company of his friends that is his Catholic Church.
The content of that yes to God is expressed in the 10 Commandments. Jesus once told a certain rich young man: “If you would have life, keep the commandments”. (Mat. 19: 17) And it is important that we understand that the Commandments are not just a pack of prohibitions. Don’t allow yourselves to think of the obligations of you will assume as Catholics in that way.
Sure, as Catholics you can’t miss Mass on Sunday nor can you dabble in any New Age superstitions, as Catholics you can’t use artificial contraceptives or support abortion or in vitro fertilization or sterilization, as Catholics you can’t have sex outside of marriage. Nor as Catholics can you cheat your employees or steal from your employers or spend your lives only chasing after material things. All this, and much more, is true; but, the commandments are not impositions on our lives or limitations to our freedom.
The commandments actually put forth a great vision of life and show us the way to true freedom. As Pope Benedict XVI said a year ago last January when he baptized some infants on the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism: The 10 Commandments “are a “yes” to a God who gives meaning to life (the first three Commandments); a yes to the family (the 4th Commandment), a “yes” to life (the fifth commandment); a “yes” to responsible love (the sixth commandment); a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility to justice (the 7th Commandment); a “yes” to the truth, (the 8th commandment); a ”yes” to respect for others and for their belongings (9th and 10th commandments).” (Jan 8, 2006)
The Holy Spirit bestows seven gifts – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts assist us to live our “yes” to God and be his witnesses.
And when we are responsive to the grace of Confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The tradition of the Church names twelve: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. Just as Jesus told his apostles on the Day of his Ascension, he says to you today: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”
With those gifts of the Holy Spirit, may you bring forth these fruits in your own lives and in this way be his witnesses. Practice makes perfect.
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of Your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of Your Love.
Come and fill the hearts of all men and renew the face of the earth!