Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Senior High, Lesson #7 “Your Call to Service and to Witness”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
How do you wash other people’s feet? Jesus did the unthinkable when he stooped down and washed his disciples’ feet. To do such a thing was beneath the dignity of a master and teacher. Jesus, on the other hand, made it a requirement of discipleship: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:14-15). Elsewhere He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant… Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28).
It is the central paradox of Christianity, that in giving our life in service and even sacrifice for others, we find life itself. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24-26).
To be a Christian is to enter into a life of service for the common good. It means accepting hardships for the sake of others. The saints were emphatic about this. St. Basil the Great thought that failing to serve others in their need was nothing less than the sin of stealing: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”
Of course, he was simply drawing implications out of Jesus’ own account of the Last Judgment, where He says: “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 [or sisters] of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40).
These are lessons we hope to impart to our Confirmation candidates. In a world where money and possessions often seem to be prioritized above human life and dignity, the Church continues to announce the prophetic words of Jesus. We have a responsibility to those in need, especially if we have the resources to help. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48, emphasis added).
According to Jesus, we shouldn’t store food and money up when other people are starving to death. We store things up because we feel more secure this way. But our security is at the expense of the life of others who are in desperate need. Jesus’ message is difficult by any measure. He tells us to find our security in God and not in our possessions. “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even [King] Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Luke 12:27-34, emphasis added).
In a parable, Jesus taught us that we should store up treasures in Heaven, not on Earth. He said, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:16-21).
The washing of others’ feet—service—is not limited to material resources. As disciples, we are asked to share our gifts, whatever they are. Visiting our homebound senior citizens who may be lonely and feel left out is a wonderful contribution. Teaching younger children in school, sports, music, and arts is another—especially when we teach them to reject bullying, prejudice, and injustice of every sort. Comforting those who grieve or who are sick is yet a third. A fourth way to contribute might be by joining the choir at church, becoming a lector, or teaching religious education. The list goes on and on. All are ways for us to build up the community and to keep our baptismal promises, rejecting sin and selfishness and growing in the kind of love that expresses itself in service and caring.
This is the point of the service hours that we ask the Confirmation candidates to accomplish. They are not a hoop to jump through and be done with, but an introduction to a way of life. We want them to think about the challenge that Jesus sets before us and to consider whether they accept that challenge. It is an invitation to a difficult life, one that takes courage and compassion. But it is also an invitation to a meaningful life, and one that bears fruit not only here but in eternity. The first disciples took Jesus at His word and they “had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (Acts 2:44-45). What can we do? How can we live out Jesus’ command? This is a question for all of us, and especially for our young people as they consider Jesus’ call: “As the Father has send me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Will it be easy? No! But Confirmation is the sacrament by which we are assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit to give us the strength, the faith, the courage, and the persistence to follow Jesus as servants filled with love.
The Church needs its ordained ministers (bishops under the leadership of the Pope, priests and deacons under the leadership of their bishop), but it also needs the contributions—the ministry really—of all the baptized. We all have unique contributions of time, talent, and treasure to offer. The Spirit works through each one of us, if we simply place ourselves humbly at God’s service, always searching out opportunities to “wash the feet” of our brothers and sisters in need.
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/