14 Oct 2012
“When [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up [to Jerusalem] according to festival custom.” (Luke 2:42) In the name …
Today is the Feast of the Christian Family, which our church denomination has been celebrating since 1914. Today is also Confirmation Sunday, which we have been preparing for since 2010, which strangely seems just as long ago. Bp. Gnat was here ten times for Confirmation. Today will be Bp. Sobiechowski’s first visit. I sent the bishop an email a while back asking him if he planned to come here early to spend some time with the class and ask them a few catechism questions, like Bp. Gnat used to do. This was his emailed reply: “I love quizzes, but what if they don't know the answers ... delay the Confirmation ... or fire the priest?” So make sure you do well because I have no other marketable skills. If I get fired, my family and I will have to come and live with you guys. You thought one hour a week was bad! Imagine seeing me all day, every day. So if you don’t want to explain to your friends who come over to your house who that guy is sleeping on your couch, you better do well this afternoon with the bishop.
Now let me try to help you. Every class always asks about the slap on the cheek from the bishop. No one is going to get slapped the side of the head, but the slap on the cheek is supposed to sting a little bit. Here let me show you. This is supposed to symbolize for you that with Confirmation you’re expected to even suffer for the faith if need be. That’s not as strange as it sounds. How many times I’ve seen you guys come into catechism class all banged-up from one sport or another: bruises, even a concussion. How often you’ve complained that you have to come to catechism and then go home and do homework. You suffer for the things you feel are worthwhile. Anyone can lie on a couch, but to suffer for something you believe in gives life purpose and a sense of accomplishment. Remember that this afternoon. Count your faith as something worthy of your best efforts. Don’t ever become spiritually lazy because that can happen easily, without even noticing it. [Example of me and doctor’s appointment]
Think about today’s Gospel, for example. Jesus and His family live in Nazareth. They have to trudge on foot for close to 100 miles to be in Jerusalem for Passover. They walk in large caravans of pilgrims for safety’s sake. They sleep outdoors and they eat whatever they can carry. We’re not talking cars, hotels and restaurants. This makes our excuses sound kind of lame today when we use them to skip church. But there’s an even more important lesson in today’s Gospel for us about staying active in the faith. Excuses mean you don’t want to be here in the first place. There’s something lacking, in other words. There’s something not fulfilling or needed. I’ve seen too many young people walk away from church to think otherwise, and it pains me. But Jesus doesn’t just go to the Temple and take what’s offered. He doesn’t just sit passively and quietly. The Bible tells us that when Mary and Joseph finally find Jesus after three days He’s listening and questioning the teachers. We’re not talking about an hour in church. Twelve year old Jesus was debating with the Temple authorities for three days. It’s easy to walk away. It takes maturity of character and spirit to make a difference.
This is an aspect of faithfulness that we sometimes forget, that faithfulness sometimes asks us to challenge and question the faith. That’s why your voice is important. You’ve gone through our School of Christian Living. We’ve spent two years studying the catechism together. You’ve listened just like Jesus listened in the Temple. But you have a perspective that is different than your teachers and me because of your age. At Confirmation you will receive the gifts of wisdom and understanding, counsel and knowledge, and from the Holy Spirit; don’t let them dry up, by giving up, on church. When you’re Confirmed this afternoon you enter into a tradition that reaches back to Pentecost and the very birth of the church. When the Holy Spirit was shared with the church, there was energy and excitement. There were dreams. Everything was possible. Everything was on the table. Young voices remind us of all that potential. Take these gifts seriously, and we as church should also take them seriously and listen.
I was interviewed up at UMass by a reporter for the Daily Collegian newspaper a couple of weeks ago. I told her some of the stuff I’m now telling you about the importance of your voice. I don’t know if it was a reporter’s question or her own skepticism, but she asked me, “Do you really think young people can make a difference?” I hope you can, but I know you can’t if you disappear. There’s a measurable disconnect between what people believe, even church people, and what the church sometimes teaches (http://www.npr.org/2012/10/11/162594956/vatican-ii-a-half-century-later-a-mixed-legacy). That happens only if you give up, if you don’t speak your conscience, if you don’t use the gifts Confirmation gives to you, if you don’t ask your questions – just like 12 year old Jesus asked His questions.
This is part of what it means when we say that Confirmation completes Baptism. When you were baptized, you had no voice in the church. Even if you weren’t an infant, you would still have no voice. That’s why your godparents were there. Until you were baptized, until you became a Christian, your voice did not count. Baptism was done to you. But now that you are to be Confirmed as young adults in the church, the godparents are replaced with sponsors, and now it’s the sponsor who stays silent. You have the privilege and responsibility of voice, the Spirit-inspired voice of your conscience. Don’t throw that away. Don’t make light of it. Stay involved or get more involved. Remember there are also ones younger than you are who are watching what you will do. Your example can make more of a difference to them than a thousand sermons from me. Confirmation is a powerful sacrament and that’s why Bp. Paul, all the way from New Hampshire, and the local clergy will be here this afternoon even though the Patriots are on at 4PM. Believe in Confirmation. Believe in this afternoon’s words. And believe in yourselves too. For you, on this your special day of Confirmation, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo