Sunday, May 20, 2018

Confirmation and ‘Conformation’

(Pentecost 2018 (B): This homily was given on May 20, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 1-11; Psalm 104; Galatians 5: 16-25; John 20: 19-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2018]


Each of those words has twelve letters, eleven of which are the same.  But the tiny change that we find in the second word—the change of the “i” in Confirmation to the “o” in conformation—makes a huge difference.  So much so that it actually takes a work of the Holy Spirit and transforms it into a work of Satan.

Confirmation, of course, is one of the seven sacraments.  As such, it’s one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works.  It’s also our personal participation in the event of Pentecost, which we heard about in today’s first reading from Acts 2.  Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Easter, was what you might call a spiritual “game changer”.  Prior to that event, the Apostles were weak and fearful, unsure of themselves and unsure of the truth.  After the Spirit descended on them, they were exactly the opposite.

And they were not only different as individual persons; they were also different from other persons (from other persons who had not been anointed with the Holy Spirit in the way that they had been).  That’s clear from today’s first reading.  When the people in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday heard the Apostles preaching and speaking in tongues, they took notice, did they not?  They said, in effect, “Hey, these guys are different!  Something’s happened to them!  Each of us hears them speaking in our own native language!”

The Catechism says this about Confirmation: “It is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.”

We receive the Holy Spirit for the first time when we’re baptized.  Through the sacrament of Baptism original sin is taken away, we’re born again of water and the Spirit, and we receive sanctifying grace into our souls. 

So why do we receive the Spirit again? 

We receive this second outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation to help us live out our baptismal commitment to Christ and his Church by “bear[ing] witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds”—as the Catechism tells us in that text I just quoted to you.

And this is where, for many young people who are being confirmed these days, Confirmation gets overshadowed.  It gets overshadowed, it gets usurped, by what I would call “conformation”—which is basically the desire to conform and be like everybody else (instead of trying to be the person that God wants you to be).

These young people need to hear and take seriously the words of St. Paul in Romans 12.  There the Apostle says this: “I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.  DO NOT CONFORM YOURSELVES TO THIS AGE, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.”

“Do NOT conform to this age!”

“Don’t live your lives,” in other words, “in conformation to the ungodly ideas of the world in which you live.”

But many of our CONFIRMED young people are doing just that!  As Fr. Besse would say, they’re allowing the world to “squeeze them into its mold.”  This comes home to me every time one of our faithful teenagers (and thankfully we do have a number of them) says to me things like, “Fr. Ray, we had a discussion in class today about abortion, and I was the only one who said abortion is wrong.”  “Fr. Ray, I was talking with a group of my friends recently and they said that they all believe in gay marriage.”  “Fr. Ray, one of the other teens who works with me said he doesn’t see anything wrong with living together before marriage.”

And on and on it goes.

Now I could understand it if these faithful teenagers who come to me were going to school and working and hanging around with a bunch of atheists and devil worshippers, but most of the kids they’re talking about here are baptized—and confirmed—Catholics!

And yet, they believe all these things that are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s “conformation.”

The grace of Confirmation, my brothers and sisters, is the grace to live the Faith and defend the Faith and spread the Faith.  It’s a gift from Almighty God himself.  But it’s a gift that we have to freely accept and freely put to use.  Have you ever received a gift from another person that you haven’t ever used?  I have.  A number of times!

The gift is yours—you have it in your possession—but it doesn’t do you any good whatsoever, because you aren’t using it.

Well, that’s precisely the way many young people—and many not-so-young people—respond to the grace given to them at their confirmation.  They receive that grace into their souls, yes, but they don’t allow it to change them and strengthen them in the way the Apostles allowed the Spirit to change them and strengthen them at Pentecost.

Many of them don’t even go to church anymore!

We had almost 60 young people confirmed here in Westerly a couple of weeks ago.  I wonder how many of them have been to Mass since then.  I hope and pray they ALL have—but I definitely wouldn’t “bet the farm on it”.

I wouldn’t even bet half the farm.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that so many of our youth are depressed and confused these days?  I don’t think it is.  In today’s second reading from Galatians 5, St. Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruits of the Spirit.”  The works of the flesh he mentions there are some of the activities that flow from a life of conformation: “Immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.”

The kinds of activities, in other words, that eventually lead to depression and confusion—and a lot of other bad things.

Then Paul mentions the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which, happily, are some of the realities which are found in the life of somebody who is living in the grace of his or her confirmation: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Confirmation/conformation: two similar words with two very different meanings, signifying two very different lifestyles that take people in two very different directions—both in this life and in eternity.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful on this Pentecost Sunday, that we will say yes to the grace of our confirmation every day, and no to the constant temptation we face to conform our lives to the world and its ways.  And may our young people follow our example and do the same thing.  This we ask through Christ our Lord.  Amen.