Saturday, January 10, 2015

Homily - Baptism of the Lord (Year B)

This weekend, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. This marks the official end to the Christmas season. Admittedly, I took down our Christmas ornaments last weekend, but I did get my thank you notes out before the season ended! Also this weekend, at the 11:30 Mass, Fr. John (our pastor) will ask our approximately seventy 7th and 8th graders of the parish, who are preparing for Confirmation in March about their freedom, intent, desire as candidates for this Sacrament. Often, I think, with such questions, there is confusion by candidates, parents, godparents, and others about what is happening at Confirmation. When we prepare these young adults for the Sacrament of Confirmation, we do so not simply as a rite of passage for them – as if on the day they are confirmed that they are transitioning from Christian youth to adults, or from immature to (more) mature Christians. While on some level it is true and even proper to view Confirmation as an opportunity for a young man or woman to affirm publicly his or her faith and unity with the Church, they actually can and should do this everyday by what they say and do – by waking up every day with the desire and intent to know, love, and serve God and others more and more. Confirmation is better understood as a Sacrament of Initiation – initiation into a relationship with our God, which begins with Baptism and is strengthened in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation – initiation into the one relationship that will bring us the greatest joy and peace now and eternally. As we have been working to prepare our 7th & 8th grades, which is mostly done by our wonderful teachers (McMahon, Roberts, Ulibarri, Rost), we can not stress enough to the students the necessary and important connection between their Confirmation and Baptism. So it is with great intention (and some hard work) that we selected this weekend, in which we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, to gather our Confirmandi and ask them a series of questions. This connection between Baptism and Confirmation is very important for several reasons. First, the function of Confirmation in our Catholic lives is to focus our attention on the gifts of the Holy Spirit that first came to us at our Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit that dwells in each of us from the day we were baptized; it is the Holy Spirit who is given to us as God’s most precious gift – a gift freely given out of love; and it is the Holy Spirit who is to be our strength and our guide in living the Christian life. Second, it is this gift of the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, that aids us in fulfilling the call to conversion. We are called to a life of continual conversion - gradually rooting out sin and selfishness and to give our lives more and more completely to God – by following his commands and loving him and others more and more. The Holy Spirit gives us grace to see our sin for what it is – rebellion and a rejection of the love of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to turn away from all that would keep us from his love. And so, we will ask our candidates if they reject sin and evil in their lives – and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pray that they will not only answer yes tomorrow/today, but every day. Third, believing is only possible by grace and the help of the Holy Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to God’s love and mercy and who makes it easier for us to accept and believe in our Triune God. So, another important set of questions that we will ask our Confirmandi today (tomorrow) – and that will be asked of them again at their Confirmation - is their own faith – a faith in our Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. At their Baptism, their parents and godparents made this profession of faith for them, now we ask them to make it for themselves - by the grace and help of the Holy Spirit they will answer “yes” they do believe. Finally, Confirmation should be an opportunity for the Confirmandi to enter into a fuller, deeper participation with and as a member of the Christian community. And this really means at least three things. First, all the faithful – you and me - are expected to take responsibility for those being Confirmed. We are to support them by prayer (and even fasting), make them feel welcome and give them, by what we say and do, the example of what it means to be a Christian. This is a promise parents and godparents made at Baptism and it will be a promise that they, with all gathered at the 11:30 Mass tomorrow, will renew. Second, the hope is that our Confirmandi will not only feel welcomed and empowered to take a more active role in the liturgical and charitable activities of the parish, diocese and universal Church, but also be willing and able to share and even defend our faith. And third, the hope is that by what our Confirmandi say and do, that they will serve as living reminders of our own Baptism and Confirmation and the commitment that it entails. By what they say and do, we should become more aware of the Holy Spirit in our lives and with the Spirit’s help and guidance be inspired to continue our own faith journey. The anointing by Bishop Campbell in March during the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the completion of our 7th & 8th graders initiation into the Church. Let us pray for our Confirmandi as they prepare for Confirmation, that they may grow in their love of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which began at their Baptism.