Posted by: frroberts | July 11, 2015

Sunday Sermon Notes: Sealed in the Spirit

One day a priest sat down with a Protestant minister for lunch.  They were old friends who had grown close by sharing their joys and frustrations with each other over the years in which they had been assigned in the same town.  Each one valued the other’s friendship.  Today the Protestant minister had a very serious problem.  He had bats in his church’s belfry, and lots of them.  The minister recounted all of the things that he had tried to do to get rid of the bats until finally he discovered that they were a protected species and he had to allow them to continue living in his church bell tower or face legal action from the federal government.  He was clearly agitated. “What can I do to get rid of these bats?”  he asked the priest, clearly at the end of his rope. “I think I know what will work,” responded the priest.  “I will invite my bishop to come and confirm the bats and you won’t see almost all of them in your church again except for Christmas and Easter…guaranteed.”

Many Catholics in our country view the Sacrament of a Confirmation as the sacrament that celebrates our adult decision to accept the Catholic faith.  The odd thing about this attitude toward confirmation is that a majority of those who receive the sacrament seem to stop attending Mass regularly in the weeks that follow making their “adult” decision to accept the Catholic faith.  I remember very vividly one such instance at a previous parish where I did home visits to families who had received baptism, first communion or confirmation in the previous year.  One evening I called a confirmation family and was trying to schedule a time to visit, only to hear a teenager scream in the background, “I thought you told me that I did not have to do any church stuff after I was confirmed!”

This past semester I had the chance to teach a course through Saint Joseph College on the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  We studied what the Church has officially taught about confirmation from the time of the Apostles to today.   One of the things that I tried to drill into my students was that we Catholics in the United States have missed the mark profoundly when it comes to the meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It is not a sacrament of an adult decision to accept the Catholic faith.  Instead, it is a sacrament that strengthens us to work to promote the mission of the Church. We begin today a three-part series of homilies on the Sacrament of Confirmation.  This homily will focus on what the sacrament is.  The next two will focus on how confirmation empowers us to live the Christ-life day by day so that we can become co-workers in fulfilling the mission of Jesus in the Church.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul writes to the Ephesian Church that they have been “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of [the] inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of His glory.”  Let’s hear that sentence again.  In confirmation, we have been “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of His glory.”  This counsel of Saint Paul illumines the true meaning of the sacrament of Confirmation.  It is a “seal” that empowers us to praise God’s glory in our daily living.  When we do that, others cannot help but notice that Jesus is at work.

When a bishop confirms someone, he uses his thumb to sign the candidate on the forehead with sacred Chrism and says the words, “N., be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  We would do very well to think of the seal that we receive in the sacrament of Confirmation as a kind of supernatural tattoo.  Judging from what I see when I work out in the gym, having a tattoo is not unusual for those my age or younger.  In the interest of full disclosure, I do not have one, nor to do I plan on getting one!  A tattoo impresses a mark on the skin that under normal circumstances lasts for life.  In the case of confirmation, the mark left is invisible and remains on the soul for all eternity.

The supernatural tattoo that comes from confirmation differs in important ways from a natural tattoo.  As I start to recognize my own body begin to change as it ages, I cannot help but wonder what some of the tattoos I see when I work out at the gym will look like twenty years from now when the people who have them start to show the signs of aging.  These natural tattoos are exterior and tend to fade in distinctness with time.  When it comes to the supernatural tattoo that one receives in confirmation, it is invisible and has the potential to become more distinct with the passage of time.

What does this mark, this seal, that one receives in confirmation give? The clue comes from the sacred chrism, or holy oil.  Sacred chrism is olive oil mixed with strong perfume that the bishop blesses at a special Mass during Holy Week.   Since ancient times, we have known that olive oil is not only good for cooking but also can help loosen up stiff muscles as well as heal damaged skin.  The oil used in confirmation symbolizes strength and healing.  If we are open to it, confirmation gives our soul a permanent ability to receive strength and healing from God so that we can be spiritually fit to serve others, to be Jesus for them.

This sacrament gives us is, in Saint Paul’s words, spiritual power “to the praise of God’s glory.”   In other words, God gives us the ability to bear witness to His goodness for the benefit of others.  The use of perfume in the blessed oil drives this point home.  When women wear perfume, those around them know it.  The principle effect of confirmation should be that our lives give forth the unmistakable fragrance of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 2:15).  When a confirmed person lives out the grace that this sacrament offers, his mere presence in the room enables people to feel Christ’s energy.

If we have ever spent time with a truly holy person or holy people, we know what it feels like to smell this fragrance of Jesus Christ.   Here we are not usually talking about a physical smell but rather an almost palpable supernatural goodness that emanates from a person.  For myself, I think of a monastery in Wisconsin that I visit from time to time.  Every time I have spent time with the abbot there, I have smelled the odor of sanctity that proceeds from him.   I have noticed this odor of sanctity with some of my brother priests and also some of the parishioners in our parish cluster.

In the sacrament of confirmation, God gives us an abiding invitation to bear witness to His goodness through our words and actions.  He also gives us, if we are open to it, the strength to give an unconditional yes to this invitation. In our mother Mary, we encounter the greatest human example of this unconditional yes to God’s will.  When the angel Gabriel announced the divine plan that God the Son would become incarnate in her womb so that He could redeem the entire human race from the age-old debt of sin, Mary responded with an unconditional yes.  There are no ifs, ands or buts included when she says, “let it be unto to me according to your word.”  All throughout her life, Our Lady continued to be open to God’s grace as she deepened her yes, even unto the foot of the Cross, where her yes meant consenting to her own Son’s redemptive death.

In confirmation, we have been “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of His glory.”  Next week we will look at a very important way that we can be more open to the grace that the Sacrament of Confirmation offers us.  Don’t miss it!


Responses

  1. Father — this is an excellent sermon and gives me new insight into the purpose of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Thank you.

    Like


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