Holy Spirit and Fire

(Advent Homily)

This Tuesday we will enroll our young people for the Sacrament of Confirmation. We chose this date because it is a feast of Mary--her Immaculate Conception. According to the Bible, the Virgin Mary was the first one to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was physically conceived in her. We are asking that Jesus be mentally, emotionally and spiritually conceived in our young people. That can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

By a happy coincidence this Sunday's readings speak about the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer tells the crowds, "There is one coming who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and Fire." Two sacraments are implied here: one is baptism, the other is confirmation.

Isaiah has a prophecy which we have always applied to the Holy Spirit and confirmation. He lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are seven: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. I am not going to explain each one of those gifts. The Catechism has a paragraph on them, their relation to Jesus, their relation to us (#1831). It is enough now to affirm that they are truly gifts. We cannot get them by our own power. We have to ask for them--and to open our hearts to receive them. The great way we receive those gifts of the Spirit is thru sacrament of confirmation.

The one who administers confirmation is the bishop. On April 10 Archbishop Brunett will be coming to Holy Family Parish to confirm our young people. Anyone sixteen or older and baptized as a Catholic can be confirmed on that date. The bishop will extend his hands over them praying that they receive the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit. Then he will individually anoint them with sacred crism on the forehead. He will say their name. "William, Rebecca, Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

There is such a power in that anointing. The Bible talks about it over and over. Priests are anointed. Prophets are anointed. Kings are anointed. But they are mere shadows of one who is to come. Jesus is The Anointed One. In fact that is what "Christ" or "Messiah" means: Anointed. The word was first used in a medical context. If some got burned or wounded, the doctor would prescribe that he be rubbed with oil. It has a power to heal, to soothe, to strengthen which we still recognize today. This medical meaning--healing, comfort, strength--is taken up by Jesus and the anointing with the Holy Spirit which he gives.

Something will happen here on April 10 when Archbishop Brunett rubs oil on the foreheads of our young people. It may be accompanied with a rush of emotions--but feelings in themselves are not the issue. Something will happen which will mark those young men and women--not just for this life, but for all eternity. It is called the "character" of the sacrament of confirmation.

The enrollment this Tuesday evening is an important step to prepare for that sacrament. Regarding the importance of preparation, I think about my experience when I was pastor of the Lummi Indian Reservation up in Whatcom County. I had the privilege attending the ceremony of the tribes "New Dancers." The young men would come out one by one. Each had his own song which he would chant. Older men with drums then picked up the rhythm and the initiate danced in the presence of the entire tribe. I was the only non-Indian that nite so they took care to explain to me what was going one, how the initiates spent months preparing for that nite. They had fasted, bathed in ice water and prayed. Each one had a "baby sitter" who accompanied him as a sponsor. It was a radical transformation of life. For some of them it involved turning away from drugs, alcohol, and so on. But most important was not what each one did, but what was done for them. At some moment in meditation they were each given there own personal song.

We are going to have a preparation for our confirmation candidates as well. It may not involve fasting and swimming in an icey river, but it will call for a transformation of life. In late January the formal instructions will begin. Before the confirmation itself there will be a weekend retreat directed by a dynamic young priest. The rest of us will be asked to accompany the candidates in prayer. That they will receive the seven-fold gift of the Spirit. That the anointing with chrism will penetrate their whole being.

I ask you please to come to the enrollment Mass on December 8. It is the feast of the Immaculate Conception--and a holy day of obligation. We will be consecrating our candidates to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a special way she is their Mother. I'm confident that if we place ourselves and our families under her care we will receive every gift we need for this life--and to arrive at eternal life.

From Archives (Second Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2010: Silence, Sin, Spirit
2007: That We Might Have Hope
2004: The Leopard, the Lion and the Wolf
2001: Change Your Life!
1998: Holy Spirit and Fire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Germaine Greer on Birth Control

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


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