Here’s the background on this one. I am working on my midterm exam for Sacramental Theology class on the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a take-home exam, and one of the questions asks me to write a homily for celebrating a confirmation. Now, the probability of me ever being a bishop or celebrating a confirmation Mass approaches zero, but it was an interesting assignment, and, since no one will ever hear me say this homily, I thought I’d share it for the world to read. Plus, it’s an easy way to get an extra blog post in this week! Win!
Here’s the scripture passage that I’m using as the basis for this homily.
To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:3-8, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition
Today, you have all come to ask the Church for the sacrament of confirmation. Like those first apostles we hear about in Luke’s account of the early Church, you have declared that you believe, and you are asking for the same gifts which Jesus gave them to be poured out on you. I would like to take a moment and take the reading you heard from The Acts of the Apostles in three parts to parallel three main points in the sacrament of confirmation: your profession of faith, the calling down of the Holy Spirit, and the anointing with chrism.
First, Luke recounts that Jesus “presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs.” (Acts 1:3) These proofs led the apostles to believe the faith that you will be asked to profess in just a moment. You will be asked to profess the same faith that the apostles claimed after those proofs. Unlike the first apostles, though, you have the word of the Church handed down through the ages. You are asked to profess the faith for which countless holy martyrs, from the earliest days of the Church, were willing to offer their lives. To you, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29) You received this faith first in your baptism. Since you were baptized, your parents taught you the faith that has been safeguarded by the Church through the centuries since Christ entrusted it to her until his return. In this faith, the faith you received in baptism, the faith you have been taught since that day, and and the faith that you, yourself, will publicly declare today, you have become disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Luke goes on to say that the disciples were told to stay in Jerusalem until they received that which had been promised by the Father and told to them by Jesus, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today, each of you is to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit is called down over the bread and wine in the Eucharistic Prayer, I will shortly call down the Holy Spirit over you to fill you and be your “Helper and Guide.” I will pray that you be given the “spirit of wisdom and understanding…of right judgment and courage…of knowledge and reverence.” I will ask that God always fill you with wonder and awe in his presence, that you always remember that despite all the challenges that you may face in life, he is your God, and he will take care of you. If you open your heart to receive them, you will receive these gifts in abundance from God. Like any of the gifts that God infuses, you will still need to practice and perfect your ability to live in these gifts, but from this day forward, your soul will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and you will have the gifts from God in a new and unique way.
Finally, Jesus says to the first apostles that they “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) This is the calling that is coming down to you. I once heard it said that, in baptism, we are made disciples, followers, and in confirmation, we are made apostles, those who have been sent. Anointing throughout the scriptures indicates a mission. Moses anointed Aaron as high priest. Elijah anointed Elisha a prophet to follow him. Samuel anointed David as king of Israel. When you are anointed with the sacred chrism and I pronounce the words, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” you both receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the perfection of your baptism. You were (at least most of you) baptized as infants, and you were infants in the faith. You were learning and following. Today, you are to become those who are sent; you are to receive fully the gift of the threefold munera — mission — of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. You are to be his “witnesses…to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) It is no small task, but the Lord is entrusting some part of it to you today, and you must trust that he will give you every gift you need to fulfill it.