This Sunday evening, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne. The homily is below.
I asked each of the students to write me a letter about why they want to be confirmed. One student wrote: “I would like to get confirmed because I want to get closer to God. I want to know what the right path is for me. And I want to figure out what he sent me here to do. I also want to get confirmed because I want to help out more in my community by serving the church and God.” Another student wrote: “I would like to be confirmed because I want my relationship with God to grow. I want to be closer to God and for the Holy Spirit’s gifts to be strengthened in me.”
Many of you wrote that you want to get confirmed to be closer to God, or you want God’s help and guidance. So your teacher did a good job of teaching you the central aspects of the Sacrament of Confirmation. It deepens your relationship with God. Confirmation strengthens your relationship with God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
But remember that God wants a closer relationship more than you do. God gave us this Sacrament to be close to us and to help us on our journey. This is one of the things we see again and again in the stories of the Bible. God is always reaching out to people, especially people in distress. In today’s gospel, ten lepers approached Jesus and said, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Lk. 17:13)
Lepers were outcasts. No one was supposed to touch them. People were afraid that they might be contaminated if they touched them. Whenever someone approached lepers, they had to yell, “Unclean, unclean.” This was to keep people far away from them. Again, they were afraid of becoming diseased like the lepers. They were required to live outside of the city, so they had no friends. They suffered in isolation.
The Samaritan leper was an “outsider among outcasts.” Samaritans were hated by other Israelites. To be a leper and a Samaritan was to be a total outcast. Even the other lepers probably looked down on him.
What is surprising is that the lepers felt that it was safe to approach Jesus, even the Samaritan. They weren’t afraid of being rejected. They must have heard not only that Jesus could heal people, but that he had compassion for outsiders like them. We see this so often. Remember the blind beggar who called out to Jesus for help, while everyone else was telling him to be quiet. But Jesus said, “Call him here.” (Mk. 10:49) He had mercy for lowly people, those whom everyone else ignored or shunned.
By the grace of Confirmation, you will experience the mercy of Jesus. He is close to you in your darkness, or when you feel all alone. But you need to cry out in prayer for his help. In addition, Confirmation will make you a witness of his mercy for outcasts. It will inspire you to be like the saints whom you chose.
Saints are people who experienced Jesus mercy, then brought his mercy to others. One of you wrote this about your saint. “My confirmation name is Elizabeth Ann Seton, and I chose her because she shows how much she believes in God. She had to go through the death of a spouse and child and through that she prayed and looked to God to help her get through this hard time. She showed me what love and trust is.”
Elizabeth’s husband was sick, so in 1803 they traveled to Italy to stay with friends in a warmer climate. The voyage on the ship took six weeks and she wrote: “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.”
She’s talking about the story of the disciples caught in a storm in the boat with Jesus walking toward them. In all her troubles, she felt him close by her side. Her husband died when she was 29 years old. Later two of her daughters died. Yet she could still say, “I have been in a sea of troubles . . . but the guiding star is always bright and the master of the storm always in view.” That is why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit – to be with us in dark and stormy times. The Holy Spirit continues to be his presence in the storms of life.
Jesus called the Spirit the ‘Paraclete.’ Paraclete is a Greek word. Literally, it means the “one whom you call to your side” (to help you and defend you). In other words, the Paraclete is “the one who answers my cry for help and stands beside me.”
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus who is merciful to the lowly and outcast. He was always approachable and close to the sick and needy. The Holy Spirit does the very same thing. When the lowly cry for help, the Holy Spirit comes beside them to strengthen them so that they feel Jesus’ presence.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew that Jesus was with her and guiding her when her husband died and her daughters died. But she didn’t stop there. She brought his mercy to others. She decided to help poor girls who had no opportunity to go to school. She established Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.
Then she established a religious community dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. This was the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America.
Today as you are confirmed pray in two ways. First, ask God to send his Spirit and strengthen you in your weakness. Where do you experience darkness? What temptation makes you stumble in sin? When do you feel isolated or afraid? Pray for the Paraclete to come and strengthen you. The Paraclete is “the one who answers your cry for help and stands beside you.”
Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton started a free Catholic school for poor girls. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
St. Elizabeth of Hungary was the daughter of a king. Her husband died when she was 20 years old and pregnant with their third child. But she dedicated her life to help others. She started a hospital to help the poor, and she visited the poor in their shacks.
The Holy Spirit is given to us to strengthen us in the storms of life, and to empower us to do Jesus’ work. Ask God to help you where you are weak, then listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.