Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Senior High, Lesson #3 “Your Faith”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” This famous saying of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (130 A.D.-202 A.D.) gets to the heart of the mystery of creation. God is the Father of all things, the Creator who brought all things into being out of nothing. Our faith tells us that God did this because God is Love, and it is the very nature of Love to create. The greatest of God’s works was the Incarnation, the very Son of God coming in the flesh to dwell among us, and the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Jesus is the glory of God, because He is the one human who was ever fully alive. True God and True Man, He shows us both who God is and who we are, according to St. Pope John Paul II.
Sin, of course, is the opposite (but not the equal) of the creative love of God. Sin is whatever diminishes God’s creation and keeps us from being fully alive. Sin does not hurt God—we aren’t powerful enough to hurt God! But sin offends God because it hurts us, our community, and the beauty and harmony of God’s creation. In the Book of Genesis, when God finished creating the world, He “saw how good it was” and “found it very good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Anything that destroys or diminishes what God has found very good is sinful. Some sins involve things that are so serious that if we choose them with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will, they are what we call mortal sins. They effect a separation from God, a rejection of the life of God in the soul that is known as Grace. To die in the state of mortal sin would mean a personal rejection of eternal life with God, which would be hell. For that reason, these sins are called mortal, meaning deadly. Most sins fall short of this level of seriousness. We call them venial sins. They may not be deadly, but they still offend God and hurt us and our life together by weakening our connection to God and making us cooperators in the devil’s work of attempting to destroy God’s creation. For that reason, we should work on eliminating even venial sin from our lives. Confession is the normal sacrament for asking God’s mercy and God’s strength in overcoming future temptations. The saints were quick to avail themselves of so powerful a sacrament.
“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” according to St. Paul (Romans 5:20). What Christ accomplished as both God and man was the perfect sacrifice of love that would destroy sin and its consequences, including death, forever. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is a down payment, you might say, on what is promised in the end. This is the Gospel, the “Good News” of Christianity! It made St. Paul so jubilant he waxed poetic, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ …thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). He was almost ecstatic, it seems, as he wrote to the Romans:
“If God is for us, who is against us?… Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 35, 37-39).
What a powerful assurance of our salvation as long as we cling to Christ! St. Faustina is famous for the Divine Mercy devotions. Christ appeared to this humble nun in the 1930’s in Poland and revealed this simple prayer, “My Jesus, I trust in You!” This is the meaning of faith. Although there is an aspect of faith that includes giving intellectual assent to doctrines, the essence of faith is trust in Jesus. The doctrines of the faith exist as guideposts to point us in that direction, to make sure it is indeed Jesus we are following and not just our own (mis)conception of Jesus. For example, the ancient Nicene Creed is a profession of faith that we pray every week at Mass. It begins, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” The word creed comes from the Latin credo, which derives from other Latin words meaning I give my heart. When we profess the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, we are not only affirming that our faith is the faith of the Church—the faith handed down by the Apostles—but we are also giving our heart to this very God that we profess. It is not an intellectual activity alone, in other words. It is an act of the whole self.
The Church guards the deposit of faith, the teachings handed down from the Apostles. When we assent to doctrines, we are trusting the Church that Jesus gave us and to which He promised the Holy Spirit as guide. The Magisterium, that is, the teaching office of the Church, is a trustworthy guide for faith and morals. Of course, not all doctrines are infallible. In fact, few are. Doctrines develop over time, as the Church itself grows in knowledge and understanding. This development of doctrine is nothing less than proof of the Holy Spirit at work to guide the Church as Jesus promised: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). The surest test of any doctrine is that it brings us closer to Christ. Faith is, above all, trust in God through Jesus Christ His Son, Our Lord and Savior. It is both a free gift and a free response to a gift. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to bring us into communion with God.
What we hope for your sons and daughters is that in learning these truths of our faith, they begin to see more clearly through the eyes of faith. We hope that their world will not be so small as to have room only for the busy-ness of school and making a living, but that it will be expansive and opened up to the infinite! We hope that everything they learn about this world will fill them with Wonder and Awe (a gift of the Spirit) at the Creator whose handiwork this is. We hope the ceiling will be lifted off the world for them and the transcendent dimension of our existence, the spiritual aspect of being human, will fill their lives with deep hope, meaning, and the assurance of being loved infinitely and promised an eternity of love in the very heart of God in Heaven. We hope that they will see that even death is no longer an ending, but only a passage into the fullness of life that Christ made possible by His own death and resurrection. We hope that they will learn to take care of the soul as they do the body.
God is at work in the world every day, but only those who have the eyes of faith can see it. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning captured this perfectly when she alluded to Moses meeting God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-17): “Earth’s crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God;/ But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,/ The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…”
We hope that your sons and daughters will be open to the gift of faith so that they might see God, fall in love with God, be drawn into humble service of this beloved God by serving others in their needs, and thus find life full of meaning and deep happiness because of this relationship with their heavenly Father. Ultimately, what we hope for them is eternal life with God. Heaven has many metaphors and images, but at its essence it means being caught up in the fire of divine love, which is the very life of the Trinity. It is an eternal falling in love! It is beyond our ability to imagine. “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9).
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/