Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #6 “Experiencing God’s Love in the Church”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
There is no such thing as a private Christian. Faith in Jesus may have a private dimension, but it always brings us into community with the whole Church. It is a public faith. Jesus did not leave us with a set of ideas and principles that we may simply adopt as a personal philosophy. He founded a Church. From the very beginning, He gathered a community together.
The Church is, first of all, the People of God. All who are baptized share in the life of Christ, which is the Church. We are, to use the language of St. Paul, the Body of Christ (See 1 Cor. 12:27 and Col. 1). The Church is also hierarchical. Hierarchy is the opposite of anarchy. The word means sacred order. In this ordering of the Church, Jesus Himself is the head. But He assigns various roles, like the parts of a body needed for proper functioning. To keep everything working together, He appointed Peter the visible head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ who is the true head, a role that continues down through the ages with the popes. In Scripture, we read about this conversation between Jesus and his Apostles, and particularly with Simon, whom he renamed Peter, meaning Rock:
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:15-19).
According to the ancient creeds, the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. These Marks of the Church are important, for they help us to identify the Church that Jesus founded.
- One – It has one head and Lord, Christ; and is unified as one under the Pope; it has one faith.
- Holy – It is holy in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, which is its life; its members grow in holiness to become saints; its worship is holy and pleasing to God because it is joined to the perfect love of Christ for the Father.
- Catholic – It is open to all people and meant for the salvation of the world; it gathers from the diverse populations and cultures of the world.
- Apostolic – Its popes and bishops continue a line of Apostolic Succession back to Peter and the Apostles, keeping true to the deposit of faith they learned from Christ handed on through Scripture and Tradition.
The Church is “the seed and beginning” (Catechism # 541) of the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated and preached about, and which He will bring to fulfillment at His Second Coming at the end of time. The Church exists for the Kingdom. It continues the work of salvation that is the will of the Father, the mission of the Son, and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Church does not exist for its own sake but for the salvation of the world. Christians are called to be “a leaven in the world” (Vatican II, “On the Laity,” #2) that makes the whole loaf rise. We do that by proclaiming the Good News (the meaning of Gospel) of salvation wrought by Christ’s sacrificial love and mercy. Our actions say as much, or even more, than our words in this regard. “Preach the Gospel in everything you do; if necessary, use words” is one translation of the advice St. Francis of Assisi is said to have given his followers, the Franciscans.
How can we proclaim the Gospel if we ourselves don’t celebrate what we have? The parish community exists for us to come together each week with other members of the Church to hear the Scriptures, join in Christ’s perfect offering of love for the Father through the Eucharist, and plan and work together on the ministries of reconciliation and healing, peace and justice, mercy, and charity that are needed in our community and in the world. The Church does so much good in the world, from feeding the hungry, to educating children and young people, to fighting for just treatment of migrants, to caring for the sick and the dying. All this work needs workers. It can’t continue without the unselfish service of generous and loving people. In preparing for Confirmation, students are required to perform some works of service in order to become familiar with the good works that Christians do and the responsibility we have to continue them through the generations. We hope that their service isn’t just a hoop they jump through, but an invitation to be part of the community and all its good works in the name of Christ.
At every Mass, we have all the companionship and sustenance we need for proclaiming the Gospel and doing good works. And yet, don’t we take it for granted in our relatively peaceful country? We put nothing at risk by going to Mass here, except maybe missing a soccer practice or an hour of sleep. The current martyrs in the Middle East and elsewhere might just be a good reminder to us of how valuable this sacrament is, and how fortunate we are to continue the 2,000-year-old history of disciples carrying out the most obeyed command in human history: “Do this in memory of Me” (Luke 22:19). Will we be the first generation to drop the ball? Are we the generation Jesus spoke about when he asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Your decision to hand on the faith to your sons and daughters gives the Church great hope that the message and ministry of Christ will continue. To empower them in this challenging mission, the Church has, in every age, celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation. Together with Baptism and the Eucharist, Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation. It brings us into full membership in the Church. In this sacrament, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, strengthening us to be like the martyrs of old and of our age—strong enough to be witnesses to Christ and His Gospel message in a world that desperately needs it. Whether in the Middle East against enemies of the faith, or in an American classroom where students are bullied and belittled, the world needs us to be the presence of Christ. The world needs people who are open to the Spirit, who allow the Spirit to do works of healing and mercy, showing God’s unconditional love and acceptance through them.
Thank you for inviting your children into this great work!
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/