One of the principal duties and privileges of a bishop is the celebration of confirmation. As our young people experience the grace of the Holy Spirit in this sacramental encounter, so too the bishop is blessed to experience the goodness and hope of our young people. In the last several weeks, I have begun celebrating confirmations, first in St. Michael and then in Campbellsport.
The latter celebration was overshadowed by a tragic accident which claimed three young lives, including the sister of one of the young men confirmed and which left one of the young women to be confirmed in critical condition. Yet, the young man and his family were there as well as the sponsor of the girl. The confirmation served as a moment of healing and hope, as the community gathered together in prayer and rallied as one around the suffering and bereaved. I was blessed to be a part of it.
Confirmation is the completion of the sacraments of initiation. As our parents and godparents make the act of faith for us in baptism, so in confirmation, we make that noble profession for ourselves, publicly witnessing that we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, living as practicing Catholics in the full sense of what that means. Confirmation is the communal continuation of the Pentecost experience, as the Holy Spirit anointed the apostles and sent them forth to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ as the Messiah and savior.
As all of our bishops have done, I take the letters of the confirmandi seriously, reading each one carefully, getting a sense of the beauty and mystery of this individual life. From these letters, I get a strong sense that our young people are thirsting for God, seeking a spiritual way to live their lives authentically, wanting to make the world a better place, knowing that life is more than just pleasure and things.
They may not understand every aspect of church teaching, some of them struggle with regular Mass attendance, others do not feel supported in their faith stance by their friends, yet here they all are, wanting to stand with the church, knowing that God has a plan for their lives, seeking to know, love and serve him. Most of the students cite the retreat experience and their service work as the moments of transformation and decision, when everything started to fall into place and confirmation made sense for them.
One of the greatest efforts of the church must be the spiritual formation of our youth, leading their hearts to a deep experience of God, steeping their minds in a profound understanding of the Catholic faith, helping them to integrate the varied aspects of their humanity into a holy and wholesome response to the Lord.
In a culture of many contrary voices and bad examples, our young people need the foundation and support to be the saints that God has called them to be. That endeavor is more difficult than ever.
So, we thank the parents and families, schools and religious education programs, teachers, principals, staff, catechists, religious education directors, pastors, sponsors and lay ministers who dedicate themselves to the supremely important task of educating, leading and inspiring our young people. Your perseverance and sacrifice is both noticed and appreciated.
I would love to have been present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost! What happened up there? Their encounter with the Holy Spirit transformed the apostles from being a fearful, silent and scattered bunch into a band of bold, fiery and fearless evangelists, who gave their lives for Christ and his Gospel.
The church today needs a steady stream of new apostles, fresh witnesses who understand and love the world as it is, but who are ready and able to lead that world to a fresh encounter with Jesus. Many of the young people that I have met and worked with, both as a priest and now as a bishop, are ready and willing for just this task and vocation. We owe them our support, prayers and friendship, as they take their rightful place in the Mystical Body of Christ.