17 May Confirmation Mass on Pentecost Sunday: May 15, 2016: Archbishop O’Brien
Homily by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien
Pentecost Sunday – Confirmation
St. Mary’s Cathedral
May 15, 2016
Before we continue with our celebration, I would like to speak to the young people who are going to be confirmed and, indeed, to all of you – parents, sponsors, relatives, friends, and parishioners – who are here today to show your love and support for them on this happy occasion.
To receive the sacrament of confirmation during the Easter season is special, because we are able to make a link between the impact that the Holy Spirit had on Jesus’s disciples and what we can expect when we receive the strengthening in the Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation. At Easter, we celebrated how Jesus rose from the dead and how, as the glorified Lord, he appeared to his disciples. Sometimes, they did not recognize him right away; it was Jesus, but he had been transformed, glorified.
Last Sunday, on the feast of the Ascension, we celebrated the ending of these appearances to the disciples. The feast of the Ascension celebrates how the divine and human nature of Jesus enters into the mystery of God – how the risen Jesus is now together with the Father and shares the place and dignity of the Father. Jesus is no longer in one particular place in the world as he was before the ascension. But now, because he is with the Father, he is present and accessible to all throughout history and in every place.
Finally, today, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. The gospel today is taken from Jesus’s words at the Last Supper (John 14). He knows that he is to die; he is giving his disciples some last instructions. He encourages them to keep his commandment of love. The love that Jesus has in mind is not just that we love those who love us, but that we offer our love and concern for others, even when that is not welcomed or returned. It is the love that went so far as to die for us on the cross. If we do this, Jesus says that He and the Father will be with us; they will make their home with us.
To love as Jesus has loved us is no easy task, but, as you heard in the Gospel, Jesus does not expect us to do this on our own. He promises the disciples and us someone to help us – an Advocate, a supporter – someone to stand by us in our need. The Advocate that Jesus will ask the Father to send us is the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit is to help us live Jesus’s commandment of love and to give us the strength and wisdom that the Church and every one of us needs if we are to be faithful to our mission to be Jesus’s witnesses: to carry on the work that he began and to establish God’s Kingdom in the world – a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.
In the first reading today, we have an account, from the Acts of the Apostles, of the giving of the Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. The language of the Acts of the Apostles suggests that something really significant is taking place – powerful wind, which is a sign of the Spirit; tongues of fire, which remind us of the Old Testament presence of God, such as the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, and the pillar of fire which accompanied the Jews on their wanderings through the desert.
But the most extraordinary thing is the remarkable effect that this experience of the Spirit’s presence had on the disciples. We see how the Spirit changed these sometimes slow to understand, fearful, timid disciples into witnesses who proclaimed the message of Jesus with great zeal and enthusiasm. We see that they were given a power to communicate the Good News. The pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast, who came from different places and spoke different languages, were able to hear and understand the message. The story from the Book of Genesis about the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is being reversed. There is a movement away from disharmony and incomprehension caused by the multiplicity of languages – a thrust towards unity has begun.
The gift of the Spirit was not just something Jesus gave the first disciples; the gift of the Spirit was not just something that we needed to get the Church started. The Church today can only fulfill its mission if it has the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide it, and if the Holy Spirit is present in the lives of each of its members, you and me.
Already, at Baptism, we have been introduced to life in the Spirit. Today, you young people will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, which will further strengthen you in the Spirit to be witnesses to Jesus, and to use your gifts, as the Second Reading mentions, to advance the mission of the Church.
In particular, during this Jubilee of Mercy, Jesus wants us to be ambassadors of God’s mercy. We do this when we practise the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They involve things like providing food and clothes to those who cannot afford them; visiting the sick and people confined to their homes; helping refugees; working for peace. But, besides practising social justice and community service, there are other things we can do to be ‘merciful like the Father’.
We can make life easier for one another by being welcoming – bringing others into our circle of friends, listening to someone who is having a difficult time, being ready to forgive those who may have hurt us. We do not just keep the faith we have received. We are meant to pass it on – to proclaim it – not necessarily only in words, but by what we do. By our actions, we show what we consider to be important.
These may seem like small things to do, but, if we all do them, then we are being ‘merciful like the Father’, and we may lead others to come to know and love Christ. But we need the help of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit in order to stick to this mission.
So, in a few moments, we will celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation: Renewal of Baptismal Promises, Laying on of Hands, Anointing with Chrism, Gesture, Eucharist.