Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sacrament of Confirmation

August 14, 2022
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
Fort Worth, Texas

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

At the end of this Sunday, by the grace of God I will have administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 2185 young adults since November of last year. It is by God’s grace alone that I have become familiar but not complacent with the rite and catechesis of this vital sacrament of Initiation. One of the practices that I have noticed with more attention is the choice of a patron saint and accompanying Confirmation name. What I have noticed is that in this custom I can learn a little about the interests of the candidate for Confirmation simply by the name of the saint that they have chosen.

For example, “Sebastian, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes. Perhaps he plays sports. “Cecilia, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Cecilia is the patroness saint of musicians. Perhaps she plays a musical instrument. “Hubert, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Hubert is the patron saint of hunters. He probably likes to hunt. “Veronica, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Veronica is the patroness saint of photography. Perhaps, this confirmand is a photographer. “Expeditus, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He must be a procrastinator. Each of these saints lived the Gospel and faithfully followed Jesus Christ; each of these saints is one of the cloud of witnesses that is mentioned in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.

In the first reading, Jeremiah prophesies that the Babylonians will conquer the Israelites because of their sins. He is arrested on charges of treason, thrown into a muddy pit, and left to die, but he was saved from death by a foreigner. Jeremiah knew he would be rejected because the people were too successful and too busy making their own plans and calculations to listen to God. Jeremiah deeply felt sorrow and grief at the refusal of his people to hear the Lord, and willingly accepted the consequences of his call to be a prophet despite his initial reluctance to do so.

In the Gospel reading from today, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus experienced an even greater suffering than Jeremiah. Jesus’ message is a radical call to live in obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. This runs opposite to those of the world, including those who decide to “hedge their bets” by trying to serve both God and material success. Jesus’ true Gospel message of surrendering one’s life in trust and obedience to God is a fire that tests and purifies those who decide to follow Him. This decision will even go as far as to bring division to the most intimate human relationships, those of the family. Jesus undergoes His Passion for us and experiences rejection and the most horrible of human sufferings because of His obedience to the Father and His message of God’s love that the world refuses to accept.

Jesus leads the way for us because He lives a life and preaches His Gospel of love with complete integrity and consistency. He suffers rejection by members of His own family. He suffers betrayal and abandonment by some of His friends and disciples because He will not compromise on the Truth. This is what He means when He says that we are to pick up our cross and follow Him. Pope Francis observed about faithfulness and integrity of the Christian life as shown us by Jesus, “One must not live in a hypocritical way but be willing to pay the price for choices that are consistent — this is the attitude that each of us should seek in life: being consistent — paying the price for being consistent with the Gospel.

“Being consistent with the Gospel. Because it is good to call ourselves Christian but above all it is necessary to be Christian in concrete situations, with your friends at school, witnessing to the Gospel with your families, which is essentially love for God and for our brothers and sisters.”

Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us the reason. Jesus, and His prophetic forerunner Jeremiah, were faithful to their respective calls persevering through their respective suffering. It was so that we whom Christ loved unto death might not grow weary and lose heart but might experience the incomparable joy of the Father’s love. This reading also reminds us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, not necessarily the people living with us now, but those who have preceded us, those hundreds of generations of men and women who have answered Christ’s call to take up their cross and follow Him: the saints.

When we follow Jesus and are faithful and consistent with living our lives committed to the Gospel and the commandments as Christ taught us to follow them, we do not fit into the group of people that refuses to follow Him but prefers to live in the darkness of their own way of sin. Yet, when we follow Jesus and are faithful and consistent with living our lives committed to the Gospel and the commandments as Christ taught us to follow them, He gives us the gift of belonging to Him and to the cloud of witnesses who are each unique and fully who they are meant to be.

Our responsibility as members of His Church, the People of God, is to be in union with Him in an intimate bond of love and active charity that requires the laying down of one’s life, the taking up of one’s cross, and the confident expectation of having a share in His victory and His joy. This is truly what it means to belong to the People of God by belonging first to Christ and not to this world as one who seeks only to fit in.

As the baptized and confirmed People of God, the Church, we do not fit in. We belong, first to Christ and then to each other. As the People of God, we are not simply a collection of diverse individuals with competitive and special interests marked off by what makes us different from each other. Yet, our sameness does not absorb our uniqueness in belonging to God and with each other. We belong as members of the People of God sacramentally, body and soul, integral and dynamic. As Pope Francis has said, “Our Christian identity is belonging to a people. Without the Catholic Church, we are not Christians.”

The grace offered to us in the sacraments always prompts us to turn outward in love for God and our neighbor. Grace never prompts us to turn inward in preoccupation with ourselves. This is a subtle difference in understanding this custom of choosing a saint’s name, but it makes all the difference because it precisely involves conversion and the grace of the Holy Spirit that brings about that conversion to Christ. Your selection of a saint’s name signifies a desire to become like the saint in love for Jesus and in compassion for other people in need. It signifies your desire to ask that saint to accompany you and to guide you to become like the saint in devotion to Christ; it is not primarily that you should select the saint who is most like yourself because of similar interests and career paths.

The lives of these Biblical heroes and saints should inspire us, but more than that they help us know how to live the faith. They are not just ideal or literary characters whom we imagine; they are real examples with whom we can become friends through our prayer and their intercession. We also find living examples of men and women among us who have decided to live fully with the Lord. These persons find their joy, not in the way social media tell us we should live, but by using their lives to love and to bring the goodness of God to the world. If we truly trust in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, these saints continue to help us on our journey.

After you are confirmed, take some more time to continue to learn about these saints, to speak with them in prayer, and to pray with them to Christ. You should start with the saints who share your name given at Baptism and whose name you have adopted to signify the conversion in your life at Confirmation. We are never alone in the Catholic Faith, and only through the intercession of those who have gone before us are we able to belong together with those who persevere in running the race, and not grow weary or lose heart and settle for fitting in to the mediocrity of this world.

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