Because I broke the femur bone in my right leg last Holy Saturday, I wasn't able to take a couple of confirmation ceremonies that had been scheduled for me in the last several weeks. I missed doing those confirmations. In a large archdiocese like our own, confirmation is celebrated throughout the year, but the privileged time for confirmation remains the weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sunday. The auxiliary bishops are in the various parish churches each evening to confirm the (mostly) young men and women of the Archdiocese. I am proud of the hardworking bishops and of those confirmed, as well as those who spend a great deal of time and zeal in preparing the young people who are confirmed.
Confirmation seals one's baptism. We first receive the life of God in baptism, when the Holy Trinity comes to us with sanctifying grace and infused virtues. These gifts purify us and bring us into God's own life. That sharing in divine life is "confirmed" or sealed when the Holy Spirit comes again in the laying on of hands and the anointing during the ceremony of confirmation. When those baptized are adults, confirmation is received right after baptism; for those baptized as infants, confirmation is given after one has been catechized and has come to a more adult understanding of the faith. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, confirmation is most often received in the last grade of elementary school. In other dioceses, confirmation is celebrated only with high school students. I received it many years ago from Bishop Cousins, when I was in the fifth grade. In a few dioceses, confirmation is received at the same Mass in which a child receives First Holy Communion.
God is love, St. John tells us. God's love is so strong that it is itself a subject, a person. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the love between the Father and the Son. Love changes everything, and the Holy Spirit transforms our lives in the Church and in the world. Without the sending of the Holy Spirit by the risen Christ, the Church would be a museum of memories about Jesus or a costume party in her ceremonies. That the memories form a living faith and the celebrations make the risen Christ present to us is because the Holy Spirit is the soul, the life-giving and unifying source of the Church's life. Love cannot be directly seen, but its effects are evident in happy lives. The Holy Spirit is invisible, but his presence is known in the fruits of his action: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
A Spirit-filled person is never hardhearted; but a Spirit-filled person is strong in witnessing to the world that Jesus is risen from the dead. A Spirit-filled person knows how to speak the truth in love. After being confirmed, a Catholic can find in the Holy Spirit the courage necessary to make the hard decisions that keep one strong in the faith. Public witness to Christ is not easy in a society that believes religion should be a purely private affair, but the Holy Spirit is always at work in the world and goes ahead of our own efforts to make Jesus truly known and loved. We should count on the Spirit's strength when we need it.
All the sacraments are social, in the sense that no one becomes holy alone; but confirmation is social also in the sense that it gives the help needed to the disciple of Jesus trying to find his or her sanctification among the trials of daily life. Confirmation is the missionary sacrament, the sacrament of Catholic Action, the sacrament of evangelization, the sacrament of active worship and apostolic life.
I like to confirm, because I am always proud of those who come forward, sponsored by someone already adult in the faith community, and ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to live the faith well. Confirmation is the time when a young man or woman should pray especially hard to know what God desires for them.
This year, on the Monday after the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary on Pentecost Sunday, our country celebrates Memorial Day. We remember with gratitude those whose lives were cut short because they died to protect our country and those they loved. This year, when the war in Iraq is at the center of divisive political discussion, we can all unite in praying for those now fighting and those who have died in military service. Last week, the Chicago Tribune printed a marvelous report on the priestly ministry of Fr. John Barkemeyer, a Chicago priest who is a military chaplain in Iraq. He joins other Chicago priests in the military service of our country, and each could tell stories of love and dedication. These chaplains are strong but not hard. May God protect them, and may the Lord also bless all those confirmed in our Archdiocese this year.