At the confirmation celebrated at the parish of St. John the Baptist in the Collatine, Rome (May 18, 2003)
Dear brothers and sisters:
1. Once again I have the privilege of administering the sacrament of confirmation to a large group of both young people and adults, in this beloved parish of St. John the Baptist. For a bishop, a successor to the Apostles, the opportunity to impart the gift of the Holy Spirit is always a motive for great joy.
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Throughout these weeks we have shared in the joy experienced by the Apostles upon seeing at their side Jesus Christ, who had risen from the dead. This was the first dawn of the Church, a time filled with joyful amazement, but as yet somewhat tentative. Our Lord spent long periods of time with the disciples, teaching them many things, but it was clearly a temporary situation. Then on Pentecost, after our Lord’s Ascension, the Spirit of the Father and the Son descended visibly upon the first Apostles, transforming them. The Church, till then like a new born babe, suddenly matured. The Apostles, who hadn’t dared to speak about Jesus publicly, were filled with fortitude. Courageous and determined, they launched out along the streets of Jerusalem to announce fearlessly that Jesus is the Son of God in whom we must believe to be saved, and whose commands we must lovingly fulfill.
What happened to the Church at Pentecost must be repeated in the life of each Christian. “Just as Easter is brought to fulfillment at Pentecost,” the Holy Father said, “so the sacrament of baptism is brought to fulfillment by confirmation. In each baptized person, by the work of the Holy Spirit, in confirmation a mature faith needs to be brought about, as happened to the Apostles at Pentecost.”
The Pope thus points to the profound meaning of confirmation. It confers Christian maturity and promotes spiritual growth, preparing us to assume the responsibility of being Christ’s witnesses. We stand in special need of this help in today’s world, where being consistent with our faith, being faithful to Christ’s teachings, requires sacrifice, even heroism. It is impossible to live our faith well without the help of the Holy Spirit.
2. All of you about to be confirmed have learned from your catechism the most important effects of confirmation. The special gift of the Holy Spirit that you are about to receive, as the Apostles did on Pentecost, will unite you more closely to Christ. It will strengthen your divine filiation, thanks to which we can exclaim: “Abba! Father,” addressing God as an affectionate Father. It will reinforce your bonds with the Church and make you adult members, with the responsibility to defend Christ’s name in word and deed. It will give you the strength needed to never be ashamed of Christ’s Cross and to take holy pride in being a Christian.
When your sponsors, acting as witnesses, place their hand on your shoulder, consider the depth of meaning found in this gesture. It is an expression of the faith and Christian testimony passed on from one generation to another in the Church since Pentecost. This continuity is like a relay race, in which one athlete passes the baton on to another until the race is over. Starting today you should run with more determination in your spiritual life, which in a way can be compared to a sport. You are about to acquire a special commitment before God, but our Lord himself assures you of his help by this sacrament. And since faith must be shown in deeds, you should strive to imbue your whole life with it. You have two principal areas in which you need to exercise your new responsibilities: your family, and your work or studies.
Bring your Christian joy to your family life. You young people need to respect your parents and obey them, as Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph. You should be available to help with chores at home. And those of you who are already adults and are perhaps preparing to form a home of your own, don’t forget that if love is to be lasting it cannot be reduced to feelings. Authentic love is characterized by the ability to forget about oneself and is faithful unto death. For all this you need the fortitude that only the Holy Spirit can give.
When working or studying you should act in keeping with your dignity as Christians. Work and study seriously, aware that you not only need to earn a living but must influence others in a positive way. Many people will come to ask for your advice at work; drawn by your example, they will end up opening their hearts in search of a direction that can change the course of their lives. The First Reading from today’s Mass offers us a clear example. When Saul, after his conversion, tried to join the other Christians, all of them fled. They didn’t believe that he was a true disciple, since only a short time before he had persecuted the Christians. But the loyalty of his good friend Barnabas won them over, and Saul of Tarsus became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
3. By their very nature, baptism and confirmation lead to the Eucharist. Therefore a person who has received these sacraments should feel the need to receive Communion frequently, going to Confession beforehand whenever necessary. John Paul II recently sent all Christians an Encyclical letter on the Eucharist; he signed it last Holy Thursday. In that document, which I encourage you to read and meditate on, the Holy Father shows how the Church is built up and grows daily thanks precisely to the Eucharist. And he explains the deepest reason for this reality: in every Mass the sacrifice of Calvary becomes present in all its salvific strength, through which Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man in the most pure womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, obtained for us pardon for our sins and made us God’s children.
Each Sunday when you participate in the Holy Mass, consider the immense, infinite importance of this gathering of the Church as God’s family. As St. Josemaría wrote, it is the supreme moment when “time blends with eternity.” It is the moment when “Jesus, with the gesture of a high priest, attracts all things to himself and places them, with the breath of the Holy Spirit, in the presence of God the Father.” Since our Lady was intimately associated with Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, now when the priest celebrates Mass (where he is not Fr. Peter or Fr. Paul: he is Christ!), Mary too is present in a mysterious way, and intercedes so that each of us may obtain all the spiritual fruit available in the Holy Sacrifice.
I have made mention of the Pope. Let us not forget that today he turns eighty-three. We are all witnesses of how generously the Holy Father spends himself in service to the Church and all mankind, sparing himself no sacrifice.
Let us intensify our union with the Pope by praying for him and offering some small mortification. We are preparing to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate. Moreover, we are in the month of May when we Christians feel the loving duty to offer our Lady some little flower, as a sign of thanksgiving and in petition for heavenly favors. Praying the Rosary as a family, as the Pope has recommended during this year dedicated to this Marian devotion, will be an excellent way to pray for the person and intentions of the Pope. Amen.