Over the last week I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with the parishes in Cheyenne – St. Joseph’s (Tuesday), St. Mary’s (Wednesday) and Holy Trinity (Saturday). This week I will celebrate Confirmation at St. Rose of Lima in Torrington (Monday), St. James in Douglas (Tuesday) and St. Anthony in Cody (Wednesday). Please pray for the young people who are receiving this sacrament. Below is the homily from the Confirmation Mass at Holy Trinity in Cheyenne.
Jesus wasn’t afraid of anyone. He was fearless. In today’s gospel he challenges the Pharisees by saying, “Why are you testing me you hypocrites?” (Matt. 22:18). He was fearless before them, like in so many other passages.
Whom do you fear? How much of your energy is spent on worrying about what others think of you? How often does fear paralyze you? It is not only young people who struggle with fear; so do most adults. Do you believe that you can be fearless like Jesus?
What made Jesus fearless? He was fearless because of his relationship with the Father. He was fearless because Holy Spirit filled him with the FIRE of the Father’s love. One of my favorite Scripture passages deals with the freedom from fear. In the First Letter of John it says, “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear . . . and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).
The opposite of fear is LOVE. A little child who is afraid runs to its mom or dad because it knows that their love will keep them safe. A child of God becomes fearless by having perfect love of God.
At Confirmation you receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we define the Holy Spirit like this. The Holy Spirit is the “personal love between the Father and the Son.” So at Pentecost when the first disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, it means that they were filled with the love of God. They had an overwhelming experience of being loved by God. So they became fearless like Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles are described as “bold,” or “fearless” (cf. Acts 4:13-31).
The Jewish leaders were struck by their boldness, or how fearless they were. After Jesus was crucified, they locked themselves in the upper room where they had eaten the Last Supper out of fear of the Jews. But after Pentecost and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they were fearless. They don’t care what anybody else thinks. Because “In God’s love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear.”
God wants to make you fearless. The Sacrament of Confirmation is meant to make you strong in God’s love. To be confirmed means to be strengthened. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, you are given the power to be fearless. But you have to have a healthy fear of God. If you fear God alone, you will be fearless. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the fear of the Lord, or awe of God.
You know the story of Thomas who doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead? Thomas is a good example of having awe or fear of the Lord. The Risen Christ appears to him and says, “Put your finger into my hands and put your hand into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God.”
That is what “Fear of the Lord” looks like. It helps us kneel in wonder before Jesus’ power over sin and death. It is not fear of an angry God, but awe of a merciful Lord who was crucified for us and with gentle mercy shows us his pierced hands and wounded side.
If you fear God alone, you will be fearless.
St. Teresa of Calcutta was fearless because she feared God alone. I met her when I was a seminarian. My first memory of her was of her kneeling on the floor of the chapel in silent prayer before we celebrate daily Mass. She always began her day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Because she lived inside of God’s love, she was fearless.
Most people remember her for her works of mercy. It is true that she was so merciful with the sick and abandoned. But she was also fearless. The day that I met her, we were waiting in line after morning Mass to greet her. Ahead of me was a man who was telling her that he was making a movie in India, and he was going on about his accomplishments. She must have recognized that he was too focused on himself. So she interrupted him and challenged him by asking, “What are you doing for Jesus?” She nailed him to the wall by repeating that several times and asking him to think about serving God, not accomplishing things for himself.
I was struck by how strongly she spoke, and I was thinking that “maybe it’s not a good day to meet Mother Teresa!” The strength of that tiny woman was intimidating. That was a striking experience of her fearlessness because she had the gift of the ‘fear of the Lord.’
The goal of Confirmation is to set your heart on fire with god’s love.…. to make you fearless.…. to make you bold witnesses.
But it doesn’t happen automatically. In fact, you will not be much different than others who are not confirmed, unless you FEAR GOD above all things. The grace of Confirmation can fade and become very weak if you are careless. Some Catholics don’t pray regularly. They are careless about coming to Mass every Sunday. They ignore the commandments. And as a consequence, it is hard to tell that they are confirmed.
Confirmation will make you closer to God, but only if you do your part. You have to work at the relationship. If you do take time to pray, God will make you a SAINT. The goal of Confirmation is to make you like Jesus. The goal is to become as strong as Christ, as fearless as Christ.
One of the students wrote in their letter to me, “When I am wanting to quit I say the Hail Mary over and over in my head, or I say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in my head and that really helps make me stronger.” That prayer is a quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:13. Those prayers are simple ways of centering your heart in God, or being rooted in God’s love. That power will be confirmed or strengthened tonight. Trust in that grace. Open yourself to the Love of God that raised Jesus from the dead.
Another person wrote about the struggles in your life. The struggle to forgive your dad and other people close to you. The struggle with depression or other dark thoughts. Bring those weaknesses to God tonight. Ask him to heal those parts of your life. With his great strength, he will fill those places of darkness with light. “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). The Love of the Holy Spirit drives out all darkness and fills you with light. It gives you the grace to forgive like Christ.
God wants to confirm you in his love to make you so strong in his love that you are fearless. Now open yourself to that love.