Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #3 “Building a Friendship with God”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
Being a follower of Jesus means entering into a friendship built on love, communication, and trust. Jesus Himself described the relationship in terms of love and friendship:
“I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another” (John 15:15-17).
In the same passage, Jesus described the spiritual life as a sharing in His own life, as the vine and the branches. This is a metaphor for what we call Grace. Grace is a sharing in the life of God. At Baptism, we are like branches grafted onto the vine that come to share its life and bear fruit. “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
St. Paul used another image. He said we should respect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). This is another image for Grace. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, making us one with Christ. We share in his relationship with the Father, and as sons and daughters of God in Christ, become heirs of Heaven (See Romans 8:17).
What we hope to impress upon the young people is that faith is about a relationship with God, a friendship. God cares about us, and wants us to grow and mature. God understands our weaknesses and helps us to overcome them. God also knows our strengths and gives us the ability to use them for the good of the world. This understanding of faith is critical. Sometimes people think believing in God just means assenting intellectually to the idea that there is a God. That is not Christian faith. For the Christian, faith is more like the relationship we have with a loving parent. It cannot exist without making time for each other, listening and sharing, trusting, and caring. For the Christian, this is the essence of prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Aside from prayer, Christian faith also implies good works. Jesus made it very clear that our judgment will be based on how we treat those who are in need. In fact, Christ identifies with those in need and warns us that neglecting them is the same as neglecting Him:
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:34-46).
Jesus also warned us that “talking the talk” is not enough. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And St. James echoed the sentiment: “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
In our relationship with God, in other words, prayer and the sacraments are essential, but they should lead us into the world with eyes that recognize Christ in our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The Great Commandment of love (Mark 12:28-31) makes it clear that love of God is completely tied up with love for our neighbor. St. John the Apostle is emphatic about it: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Catholics look to people like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom Pope Francis named St. Teresa, as examples of heroic virtue who should disturb our consciences a bit. We can become complacent, can’t we? We can become too comfortable. But those in need are desperate and dying. They are often hidden from our sight on the margins of society and in the third world. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a dangerous reality for the Christian. We must keep the poor in mind. In Mother’s words, “This is Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”
Kevin Dowd is a doctoral candidate in theology and education at Boston College, where he also received his M.Ed. A graduate of Harvard University, Kevin has taught in Catholic schools and public schools in both Massachusetts and New York. Currently he teaches theology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA and writes a weekly blog connecting the Sunday readings to life. You can read the blog at http://www.bayardinc.com/the-word-is-life/