I want to say a few words of our first reading from the Book of Maccabees and what it has to say to what we will be doing after the homily.
We have a powerful telling of the story of seven brothers and their mother who were willing to die rather than abandon their faith. King Antiochus from Antioch has ravaged Jerusalem and especially the temple and its treasures. He has left behind officials to subdue the Jewish people and force them to reject their customs and their God. This mother and her seven sons are killed for their faith in the God of life Who will raise them to a higher life, because they have remained faithful to living faithfully while on earth.
I hope you find the time to read a piece in the bulletin about the Passionist Bishop Eugene Basilkov from Bulgaria. Today is the 55th anniversary of his execution by the communists. He was imprisoned and pressured into establishing a national church which would be controlled by the government. Being faithful to his faith and the church he refused. He was shot and buried in a common grave. Like the Macabean mother and her seven sons Bishop Eugene was a martyr, a witness to the faith.
These two events, our first reading and this anniversary of Bishop Eugene’s death have much to say to the ceremony that follows the sermon. We will be having the enrollment ceremony for those young people of the parish who are asking to be confirmed.
Confirmation is that sacrament which is meant to strengthen, reinforce, and fortify the life into which we were born at Baptism. In the first centuries of the church most baptisms were adult baptisms and immediately after a person was baptized they were anointed with oil to strengthen them to live a faith which could cost them their lives. Then they received their first communion which was meant to nourish and sustain them in living out their commitment to Christ.
Confirmation is not an automatic thing. Students are not confirmed because they are in grade eight. Students must ask to be confirmed and there are certain things they are expected to do such as helping in the different ministries in the parish, to prepare themselves for this sacrament.
Personally I find this a very frustrating sacrament. The school and the parish go through so much to prepare these students for confirmation and often we wonder if it ever ‘takes’. Once they hit high school coming to Mass isn’t ‘cool’, they have better things to do and often they don’t have the example of their parents to follow. I was talking with a Rabbi a few years ago and he expressed the same frustration. He said, “We see Bar Mitzvah as an entrance into our community. But after the ceremony and the party our young people see it as an exit from the community.
Few of us remember our baptisms. Our parents and Godparents spoke on our behave stating our belief in God and our rejection of evil. But every Easter Sunday, which in the early church was ‘the’ day of baptisms, we are invited to speak in our own names and commit ourselves once again to trying to live fully the life that is ours through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
Today as these good young people prepare themselves for the sacrament of Confirmation, and with the powerful witness of faithfulness to their faith given us by a brave mother and her seven sons, the witness of a faithful shepherd Bishop Eugene – we pray for these students that they appreciate what they doing – that they always remain open to the love of God proven to us in the cross they receive – that they be faithful to that love. We can pray for ourselves that we be confirmed and strengthened in our faithfulness to Christ, Who was faithful to us, even to dying on the cross for us.