At the confirmation service in the Basílica of St. Eugene, Rome (June 8, 2003)
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. Today we are commemorating the miracle of Pentecost, the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in the Cenacle at Jerusalem.
Our Lord promised that after his departure he would send “the Spirit of Truth” from heaven so that he might give life to the Church forever and guide Christians “towards all truth” (Jn 16:13). Ten days after the Ascension, St. Luke tells us in his Acts, while the apostles were gathered around our Lady, “suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them” (Acts 2:2-3).
The third Person of the Blessed Trinity—God with the Father and the Son—conferred his grace superabundantly, opening their intellects and strengthening their wills so that they would become witnesses to Christ and his teachings to the ends of the earth.
Before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were already disposed to follow Christ and to give their lives for him, but their weakness held them back. In contrast, scarcely had they received the Holy Spirit when we see Peter and the others head out into the streets and speak of Jesus to everyone gathered there. As St. Josemaria writes: “The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of strength, has made them firm, strong, daring. The word of the Apostles resounds forcefully through the streets of Jerusalem.”
Those disciples, who before Pentecost were like newborn babes in the spiritual life, are suddenly transformed into courageous people, capable of facing up to any difficulty for the sake of our Lord.
Since that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is present in the Church, to guide it through the centuries in Christ’s truth. He is also present in every Christian, through the sacrament of baptism, which inaugurates in us the life of God’s children. This new life that Christ has given to us should grow to full maturity, just as every person after birth slowly develops until he reaches adulthood. The spiritual maturity needed to become adult Christians is precisely what the Holy Spirit gives us through the sacrament of confirmation.
As the Pope told a group about to be confirmed, “Confirmation introduces you to Christian adulthood. It confers on you a sense of responsibility beyond that of children. The child is not yet master of himself, of his life and actions. The adult, on the other hand, assumes responsibility for his own choices and accepts their consequences, since he has acquired the interior plenitude that can decide autonomously, committing his life as seems best to him, and above all, giving love, and not just receiving it.”
2. St. Josemaria Escriva, speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit received in confirmation, often said—in accord with an ancient tradition of the Church—that this sacrament enrolls us in a spiritual militia whose goal is to bring Christian peace and joy everywhere. “Since childhoood,” he recalled, “we learned that the sacrament of confirmation turns us into soldiers of Christ. Unfortunately, in today’s world there seems to be a lot of ‘flabbiness’ in people’s spiritual lives, a lack of personal struggle.”
Sadly, this is quite true. The environment in which we live, full of big and small comforts, is opposed to the maturing of an authentic human and Christian life, for which generosity and sacrifice are so important. “How cam we recover that strength that we received in this sacrament?” asks St. Josemaria. And he answers: “St. Paul exhorts us: ‘Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus’ (cf. 2 Tim 2:3). Every Christian is, or should be, a good soldier of Christ, strengthened in his vocation by this marvelous sacrament. The Holy Spirit leaves in the soul his unmistakable imprint, his character, the indelible mark of God declaring: ‘This is my beloved son, one of those who will fight for me and for himself, to obtain glory.’”
This struggle, however, does not involve physical violence, nor is it directed against anyone, because the Christian is a man of peace, who always tries to sow around him Christ’s peace and joy. It is a struggle, a sincere struggle, against one’s bad tendencies, against the selfishness, the comfort-seeking, the sensuality, the laziness that we all feel rearing up within us and that are real enemies of our temporal and eternal happiness.
But you shouldn’t think that Christian life is something negative, involving only prohibitions. A Christian’s life is filled with joy. We are the happiest people on earth! Although it’s also true that we have to say ‘no’ to our sins and fight against our defects—our laziness, our pride, our selfishness—in order to be truly happy and transmit joy and peace to others.
3. The realization that we are God’s children imparts to us a great confidence. None of us is ever abandoned to fate in his struggles and trials. God is our Father, who guides our steps, sustains us in our decisions and is present in all our actions. By sending us the Holy Spirit, he helps us to be strong, as soldiers engaged in a very special battle, the only one that God loves: striving to be better and helping others to be better.
From now on, those of you receiving confirmation belong even more fully to Christ. You should be proud of Him, courageous and faithful witnesses to Jesus in the midst of he world. This is why you are about to receive the Holy Spirit. You will bring everywhere, with your good deeds, the image of our Lord crucified and risen. Your life, as St. Paul says, will give off “the fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15), the aroma of your Christian virtues that makes life among your fellow men more agreeable.
Listen to some words of the Holy Father spoken at a ceremony similar to this one: “By confirmation you will acquire a special relationship with our Lord Jesus. You will be officially consecrated as witnesses before the Church and the world. He needs you.... You will give him your face, your heart, your entire self, so that He will act before others as you act. If you are good, firm in your faith, committed to your neighbor’s good, faithful servants of the Gospel, then it is Jesus himself who will be honored. But if you are weak and ignoble in your behavior, then you will obscure his true identity and fail to give him honor.”
This is a great responsibility. In your family, at work, when relaxing or playing sports, people should be able to notice that you are consistent Christians. From now on, your life should contain more friendship, more availability to others, more spirit of service, more cheerfulness; and also more struggle against sin, against disinterest towards one’s neighbor, against selfishness and comfort-seeking.
At times you may feel tired; you may want to think about yourself and not the others, giving in to selfishness, abandoning your personal struggle to be good sons and daughters of God. Don’t let this happen! Recall the day of your confirmation. Think of the Divine Guest dwelling in your soul, and don’t make him sad. Go to the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, and ask for her help. Go frequently to the sacrament of penance, to confession, where our Lord awaits you to purify your soul once more, to make you strong, to restore your courage and optimism as sons and daughters of God.
Our Lord is asking you to give clear Christian witness in our beloved city of Rome, the center of Christianity and the see of Peter’s successor. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of persons converted to the truth of the risen Christ. God acted with his powerful mercy to bring a radical change of heart in so many people. Our Lord continues to work miracles, but he needs you, who are about to be confirmed, and all of us here present to help him. Let us say ‘yes’ to him with our whole heart.
The Paraclete descended on the apostles and the other disciples while they were praying with Mary. We too are gathered here in prayer. Let us invoke the Holy Spirit in close union with the Blessed Virgin, our Mother. And not only now, but habitually. I invite you to do so by praying the Holy Rosary as a family during this year dedicated by the Holy Father to this Marian devotion.
Our Lady, the immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit, looks at us lovingly from heaven and intercedes for all of us, and in a particular way for you who are going to be confirmed. To her we commend our most fervent desires to be faithful witnesses to Christ, with our words and with our whole life. Amen.