Last weekend, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. On Friday, twenty six students were confirmed at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Worland which included youth from the neighboring parish of St. Francis Parish in Thermopolis. On Saturday, twenty three students were confirmed at St. Joseph Church in Lovell which included youth from Sacred Heart Parish in Greybull. The homily from that Mass is below.
What is the most important lesson of the resurrection stories? If you were to sum up the message in one point, what would it be?
It is not the fact that the disciples’ failed. There’s no scene where the disciples sit around and lament their weakness by saying, “We failed!” How could we have been so weak? And how embarrassing that one of the Twelve betrayed Jesus.” Peter could have said, “I’m devastated because I promised to be true to death and chickened out when a slave asked me if I knew him.”
They mention the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter and the treachery of the religious leaders. But only briefly. The focus is not on their sin, shame, failure, or deceit. The sins and betrayal of the disciples and Jewish leaders are only mentioned so that the power of God shines more brilliantly.
With that in mind, Peter says, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). His message is this: “We are witnesses of how God is greater than my denial and Judas’s betrayal. God is greater than our worst sins.”
The most important lesson of the resurrection stories is to bear witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering. The victory of the cross is greater than sin and Satan and death. Jesus’ victorious suffering reveals God’s Goodness, Fidelity, Generosity, Mercy, and especially his omnipotence over evil.
As he reflects on Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s goal is not to have them feel terrible about sin, but to inspire repentance. So he says to the Jewish people, “Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance . . . but God has brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the prophets, that his Christ would suffer. Repent, therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:17-19).
Peter’s goal as a witness of the resurrection was repentance. This is the goal for us. To be amazed by a suffering Savior. To have our hearts turned inside out when we consider their crass denial of Jesus, on the one hand, and God’s victory over sin and death, on the other. To be bowled over by the forgiveness of the crucified and risen Christ.
The best question about your readiness to be confirmed is about repentance. Have you learned the most important lesson of the resurrection stories? First, are you in awe of Jesus’ victorious suffering? Second, have you repented? That is, have you let God’s faithful love pierce your hearts? Third, are you willing to tell others? Are you willing to witness through the power of the Holy Spirit?
Peter speaks boldly because of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not enough to read about this in the Bible. Every age needs to have new witnesses. To be a disciple is to be a witness to Jesus’ victorious suffering. The grace of Spirit poured out in Confirmation not only fortifies us to tell his story, but also empowers us to imitate his victorious suffering.
We see this in the saints. One young person wrote in her letter, “I chose St. Maximilian Kolbe because his actions reflect what I would like to be like, as I continue my journey in life. He would to anything so that anyone who wanted to worship God could. He sacrificed his life for many people.”
When the Nazi soldiers chose twelve men for the starvation bunker, St. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a man who cried out for mercy because he had a family. Maximilian said, “Let me take his place.” About twelve years ago, I visited the cell where he died in Auschwitz. They have an Easter Candle burning in the cell. It is a powerful statement that says, “The Light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it” (John 1:5).
St. Maximilian became the Light of Christ in Auschwitz. He sang songs with the other men in the starvation bunker. He had an indomitable spirit. The Holy Spirit gave him the power of Jesus’ victorious suffering.
The saints inspire us! I like to read the stories of the saints because they show me that I can be a strong witness too. They show me that the Holy Spirit is just as powerful today as it was with the first disciples. The saints remind us that we can be saints.
When you are confirmed, I will anoint your forehead with Holy Chrism. The Chrism is a combination of olive oil and balsam, a perfume. So you will smell very nice! Do you know why we use a perfume like balsam for the Chrism? St. Paul said, “We are the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). The Holy Spirit makes you smell beautiful like Christ. Your goodness will be an aroma of Christ’s love in the world.
St. Maximilian was the fragrance of Christ in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. His prayer and the sacrifice of his life was a perfume that permeated the air of the starvation bunker. As you are anointed with the fragrance of Christ, ask for the grace to serve like Christ.
- To sit with kids who are lonely at lunch.
- To stand up for kids who are being bullied.
- To forgive others the way Jesus forgave his disciples.
- To volunteer to serve your families at home.
In addition to asking for the grace to serve like Christ, ask God to make your heart overflow with his love. Even if you don’t deserve it, just ask. Even if you struggle with selfishness and sin, ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Remember how God chose weak disciples and made them strong with his Spirit. He will do the same with you.
The Holy Spirit will give you the power to be saints,to do a MISSION that you feel too weak to do. The Spirit gives us the power that flows from Jesus’ victorious suffering.