Last Friday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Rose of Lima in Torrington. Then on Sunday, I confirmed students from Powell, Clark and Cody at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Cody. The homily from Sunday is below.
One of the deepest desires of every person is to pray well. We want to know that God hears our prayer; we want to be sure of God’s help. Many of you wrote something similar. You said that you want to be confirmed because you want to be closer to God.
In today’s gospel (Lk. 18:9-14), Jesus teaches that ‘prayer’ is not about technique, but about attitude. It’s not about praying the right prayers, but the attitude in your heart when you pray. If you pray with pride or self-righteousness, then it’s a dead end. But if you pray with humility, God pours out his mercy.
Jesus said that it is enough to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13) That is so simple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” When the Church revised the rite for individual confession in the 1970’s, this was listed as an option for the Act of Contrition: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” It is striking to hear people say that in the confessional. It expresses the two essential ingredients for prayer, humility and trust in God’s Mercy.
Do you want to learn how to pray like that? There are two good ways: Read the saints. Hang out with weak people – sick, elderly in nursing homes, people with disabilities, etc.
As a seminarian, one of my assignments for pastoral service was to visit a nursing home. I hated it. I felt so helpless. I couldn’t do anything to help them. As I was with them, it was painful to see their weakness and frailty. It put me face-to-face with human poverty. Now, I enjoy visiting the sick and the elderly in nursing homes. It is still hard to look at their suffering, but praying with them is amazing. In their brokenness, they have to rely completely on God.
You see this in St. Julia Billiart whom a student chose for her Confirmation saint. This is what a student wrote: “At the age of 31 an unidentifiable illness left Julia paralyzed. She soon became known for her intercessory prayer. When she was 53, a priest requested her to pray a novena for a special intention unknown to her. When she finished the novena, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the priest asked her to take one step in honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Julia did so and was completely cured.”
St. Julia was completely paralyzed for 22 years. At the same time, she was known for intercessory prayer. Her paralysis coincided with humble effective prayer. I have found that sickness helps me to be humble before God. Hang out with the sick and the saints; they teach you how to be humble and trust in God. St. Teresa of Avila said, “The whole edifice of prayer is founded upon humility.” Being humble is like opening the door of your heart to God’s light.
Tonight as you are confirmed, be humble and receptive before God. In fact, think of where you feel weak or powerless. Are you weak physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually? How do you struggle academically? What temptation makes you stumble in sin? When do you feel isolated or afraid? See your weakness as an opportunity to be humble before God.
Sirach says: “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” (Sir. 35:17) In the Bible, the lowly are humble people who trust in the Lord. They are the poor, afflicted or persecuted who trust that God is with them. “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.”
Trust that God will strengthen you tonight, especially where you are weak. Confirmation comes from the Latin verb ‘confirmare’ which means to strengthen. This sacrament strengthens you with the Holy Spirit. It strengthens your relationship with God. It empowers you to overcome sin. It gives you strength to be a witness.
Often people think that Confirmation is something that you do for God. Some youth say, “It is my commitment to God.” That is part of Confirmation, but not the main part. First of all, Confirmation is a gift from God. God gives you the power of the Holy Spirit. It is pure gift. So be humble before God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Then, you must to respond to such a great gift. Gifts are given so that you can help others, not merely to enjoy by yourself. Only a spoiled brat doesn’t share his or her gifts. So yes, we have to make a commitment to God. The saints show us how to do that best.
One of you chose Mother Teresa of Calcutta as your confirmation saint. This student wrote: “Mother Teresa’s life of holiness is such an inspiration to me. She felt God calling her to help others and put other’s needs first. I look up to her because I think she represents what a person can be like now in this day. She led an amazing life and believed that a simple smile could do a lot of good. One of my favorite quotes is “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
In 2005, I had the privilege of visiting the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. We visited the home for the dying, an orphanage for babies to age three and a leprosarium or a place where lepers live. By the way, all the saris worn by the Missionaries of Charity are made by lepers. At the leprosarium there were 15-20 looms where they made the saris.
Mother Teresa’s sisters serve the weakest people – the dying, orphans, lepers, etc. They dedicate their lives to serving the least. In their service to the poor, they reflect God’s love for the poor. We heard about that love in Psalm 34: “The LORD hears the cry of the poor. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Ps. 34:19)
Mother Teresa started each day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Every morning, she was barefoot in the chapel, kneeling on the floor. Staying humble before God was her secret to doing great things. She kept receiving God’s strength and love in prayer, then she responded by serving others.
As you are confirmed, pray in two ways. First, humbly receive the Holy Spirit. Trust that God will strengthen you tonight in your weakness. Second, ask the Lord to make you a saint who brings his mercy to others, like St. Julia Billiart or St. Mother Teresa. The Holy Spirit is given to us to empower us to do Jesus’ work. Listen to how God is calling you to be a saint.