Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #8 “Making a Difference as Disciples”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
Confirmation is not a graduation. It is the beginning of a newly empowered mission to share in the ministry of Christ in the world. And the world needs it so badly! It needs Christians to be like Christ, whether in our families, schools, and workplaces, or in our politics, economics, and entertainment.
Being Christian is not easy. It takes courage, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It involves taking up our cross each day and following Jesus (Luke 9:23). “If the world hates you,” Jesus said, “realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20). Still, as difficult as it may be to follow Jesus—and in some places in the world right now it is dangerous and even deadly!—Jesus assures us, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
For our young people, this may seem overwhelming. They may identify with Jeremiah the prophet who protested when God called him: “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” (Jer. 1:6). God thought otherwise! Likewise, St. Paul advised Timothy to be an example of faith despite those who thought he was too young: “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Jesus expects His followers to be different. They are to bring His light into the dark places of the world:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:14-16).
By word and, especially, by example, Christians bring light into the world and draw people to the Father, revealing His love and mercy by their very lives. Some people have a negative image of God as a judge, a taskmaster, or a dictator who will send them to hell on a whim. None of these images are accurate. When we live lives of loving service and acceptance of all people, working for justice and peace, we bring light into the darkness and help others to see God more clearly. Then, they might say with St. Thérèse of Lisieux (who died at the young age of 24), “How can I fear a God who is nothing but love and mercy?”
In the New Testament, the word for disciples is the Greek mathetes. It is a word that also means apprentices. That is what we are, apprentices to Christ. We are not perfect. We are still learning. We make mistakes along the way. Still, we aim to become like our Master. Fortunately, we are surrounded by a community of other learners, some of whom are more advanced than us and help us to grow, some of whom are behind us and whom we help to grow. Most importantly, as apprentices, we work under a Master Craftsman, who makes sure that in the end all our work is perfect. Everything we offer to the Father, when we join it to Christ’s offering in the Mass, is made perfect by Christ. All the sin and imperfections are washed away and everything that is good is polished and made to shine!
This is why being Christian requires our participation at Mass. Otherwise, all our good works are simply humanitarian acts. That’s good, but when they are joined to Christ in the Eucharist, they become part of the perfect sacrifice of Love that saves the world! They have infinite value–beyond anything they have on their own. At Communion, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we become one with Christ and one another. Remember what the priest says quietly at Mass when he drips a little bit of water into the wine before the consecration: “By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
In the Church, we are part of the Communion of Saints. We are joined not only with Christ but with all those who are living and who have died in the grace of God. Just as we pray for one another on earth, so we can turn to our friends in Heaven, the saints, and ask them to pray for us as well. And we can pray for those in Purgatory as well. Death does not break the bond between us. Purgatory, by the way, is a wonderful example of God’s mercy. Nobody can share in God’s eternal life, which is Heaven, unless they are perfectly free from sin, since sin cannot exist in God. If a person dies in God’s grace but still is not perfect, God, the Master Craftsman, finishes the work for us, making us into what we always wanted to be: perfectly capable of loving and being loved, freed at last from all our selfishness and sin. This is what we mean by Purgatory.
We are all called to grow in wholeness and holiness. As best we can, with the help of God’s grace given to us especially through the Church when we receive the sacraments and in prayer, we grow towards the full stature of what it means to be human, created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). Christ Jesus is the full stature of man. He shows us what it means to be fully human and fully alive.
In Confirmation, our young people become fully initiated into the Church. The Church does an incredible amount of good work around the world and in our local parishes. We can do so much more together than alone. This is one reason why our faith calls us into community. The Church is involved in everything from running hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities to taking care of immigrants, feeding the hungry, and providing poor communities with the supplies, skills, and advocacy needed to improve their conditions. So many Christians have turned their jobs or their free time into genuine vocations by which they fulfill their Baptismal call and put to use the gifts of their Confirmation. Something as simple as offering our musical talent to the community when we worship together is a way of using one’s gifts to serve others. All of this good work will continue to need workers, volunteers, donors, and supporters. As Jesus put it, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:2-3). You see, being Christian is not easy! How could we expect it to be when we look at the crucifix?
Being Christian is rewarding though. When Christ returns in glory at the end of time, He will bring the Kingdom of God to fulfillment. It will be a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and perfect unity. In the meantime, we, the Church, are called and commissioned to work for the Kingdom. Our young people are soon to be Confirmed and they will join us in this most important work empowered by the Spirit. Together we will continue to struggle, and to find joy, in working for God’s vision of the world, where everyone is welcomed and embraced and “every tear will be wiped away” (Rev. 21:4). We are part of a 2,000-year-old tradition of sinners struggling to overcome their selfishness and become the presence of Christ in the world, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and to the glory of God the Father! May God bless us all in this good work, especially our young people about to be Confirmed.
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/