Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with young people in Laramie, Glenrock and Casper. Below is the homily from the Mass at St. Patrick’s, Casper.
Put yourselves in the place of the apostles in this scene (John 20:19-31). What went through Peter’s mind when the Risen Christ appeared to them? The last time he was with Jesus he swore up and down that he never knew the man. As Jesus stood in their midst, he must have felt like shrinking into the corner and hiding behind the others in shame.
But Jesus says nothing about Peter’s denial or the others abandoning him. Instead he expresses mercy. He reassures them that his relationship with them is solid. Twice he says, “Peace be with you.” As you are confirmed, I will greet you by saying “Peace be with you.” Actually Christ confirms you, and he greets you the way he greeted his disciples to reassure you that he is stronger than death and that he will always be with you.
In that first encounter with the Risen Lord, Peter must have been flooded with feelings of unworthiness, forgiveness and mercy. Then something more unbelievable happened. Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). God’s plan was to send mercy-filled disciples.
Do you believe that God’s mercy is greater than your sins? Do you believe that God pours his Holy Spirit into your heart, while knowing full well how weak and sinful you are ….. then he sends you to be like Christ?
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. One of the most important qualities of Divine Mercy is steadfast faithfulness. You see it all through the Bible, but especially in Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. Jesus knew Peter would deny him, but he was steadfast in his relationship with him. Even when Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is risen, he is patient with him and gently urges him to believe by saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe” (John 20:27).
When you receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, you are conformed to Christ like the apostles. Think how Peter was conformed to Christ. First of all, he was transformed by Jesus’ faithful love. His heart was burning with Jesus’ mercy. That mercy re-shaped Peter’s heart.
As we heard in the First Letter of John, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God” (John 5:1). Another translation says, “is a child of God.” Being conformed to Christ is to be a child of God – to have the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has, to be rock solid in the Father’s love.
That relationship with the Father is only possible with the Holy Spirit. As St. Augustine said, the Spirit is the mutual love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit gives us the Love of God. The apostles had an initial experience of the Holy Spirit the evening of the resurrection, but at Pentecost they were flooded with the Love of the Spirit.
At Pentecost, everything changed. Peter went from being fearful to fearless…… He was changed by the Holy Spirit.
If you are confirmed and you’re not changed, then something is wrong. People should see some basic changes in you. For one thing, that you are stronger, more courageous. That you are joyful because you feel God’s faithful mercy, like Peter felt his heart burning with Jesus’ mercy. Also, that you are bold. You speak out about the truth.
One person being confirmed this weekend chose as a saint Blessed Chiara Badano. As a teenager, she showed amazing strength and joy despite great suffering. Here is what a confirmation student wrote about Chiara. “One day as Chiara was playing tennis she felt a pain in her shoulder. She was rushed to the hospital where she found out she was diagnosed with bone cancer. . . . A lot of patients would spend their time in the hospital being sad and wondering if they were ever going to get better. Blessed Chiara was the exact opposite. There was not a day that went by when she didn’t make someone smile or laugh; she was always happy.”
Once she said to her mom, “I suffer so much physically, but my soul is singing.” Someone nicknamed her ‘Luce,’ the Italian word for ‘Light’ because she was always so joyful in her suffering. The doctors and other patients liked to visit her because she was so joyful.
Chiara was so strong in her suffering and so joyful. But she knew that her strength and joy were gifts from God. Shortly before she died, she said to her mom, “I feel so small and the road that I have to walk is so difficult. But my Spouse [Jesus] is coming to get me.” This girl who enjoyed playing tennis was reduced to nothing and died at 18 years old. Yet, she was joyful right up to the moment of her death because she lived inside of the Love of the Holy Spirit.
Confirmation gives us the grace to be as bold as Peter, and as joyful as Chiara.
Tonight God gives you the best of his gifts. He longs to fill you with his Spirit. He wants you to feel the Risen Jesus close by your side, and dwelling in your heart. But you need to long for that gift. You need to open your heart to God and desire his help. It is possible to be confirmed and not be changed. You must desire to be changed. You need to believe in the gift of the Spirit and want it. You need to engage your own heart with faith.
The main way to pray is to simply ask God with faith and to be receptive. The more you ask, the more God will give. Ask for great things. Dare to ask God to make you a saint.
Pray in two ways. First, where do you need his power over your sin? Being rude or selfish to your parents or peers? Being a gossip? Struggle with impurity? Being lazy about coming to Mass or praying? Ask God to free you from sin and from the habit of sin.
Second, ask God to freely give you the gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Piety, Fear of the Lord. Or the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, Chastity, Humility, Perseverance.
The goal of Confirmation is to make you like Jesus. The goal is to become as strong as Christ, as fearless as Christ. God wants to confirm you in his Love, to make you so strong in his Love so that you are fearless. Open yourself to that gift…… not only today, but as you pray each day.