An Irish Missionary nun, working in a desert region of Kenya, wrote home recently describing a confirmation day in her village on the edge of the wilderness. She described the enthusiasm of the young people who came to meet the bishop. All day long they celebrated simply and, late in the evening, they headed home on foot with their families to their famine struck shelters miles away to the west. Words from St. Luke’s gospel filled her mind all that night, the words where Luke wrote about Jesus being led by the spirit into the wilderness.
We have no deserts in Ireland. We get more than our fair share of rain, our fields are green, crops grow and the sea, with its harvest of fish, is never far away when you live on an Island like Ireland. We have no deserts but I think we have a wilderness out there. We live in a lopsided world where we eat too much while others don’t eat at all. Every night the television spits our sins at us. We still live in a world where sorrows are drowned in drink and where too many try to escape the grey days of life in the passing ecstasy of drugs. We are full of contradictions. We bully in the playground and yet do projects for world peace. We are enthusiastic about a green environment while we dump our rubbish and litter our towns and countryside. Here, sadly, in this pleasant land, where we have a new found wealth we haven’t found the peace we enjoy and continually strive for and see so many young people end their lives in the years where they should be celebrating it to the full. Every day too, our elderly are exposed to violence and little respect.
On this day of your Confirmation the Holy Spirit may be leading you into the wilderness. Pope Benedict in his first letter to the World Wide Church has reminded us that love is the spinal cord of the human race. The riches of this world are not found in banks but in the warm relationships of Christian love. This love will break the bonds of loneliness which is todays most common disease. Indeed, St. Paul writing to the people of Rome centuries ago reminded them that ……………..”the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”……the same Holy Spirit which is being given to you today.
This year we hope to bring a new enthusiasm to the Church in the Archdiocese of Tuam. To the young, perhaps, the Church seems jaded and tired. Others find little enthusiasm in its liturgy. There is a widening gap between the pulpit and the pew. Many feel that the Church has been wounded even by its priests and bishops and has little attraction for the young. Its true that for far too long we have given the clear impression that the Church was all about priests, religious and bishops. The Church is you. Today you are being sent out as disciples of Christ to your generation. A very old hymn to the Holy Spirit has the words: “you are the finger of God’s right hand, kindle a light in our senses and pour love into our hearts”.
In the years ahead you will be given a voice, a part to play in putting new life and energy into the life of the local Church, all under the influence of the Holy Spirit graced on you today.
In the letter of St. Paul to his fellow disciples Timothy he underlines the task ahead with the reminder……”God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the spirit of power, love and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord”.
It is the love of God, that love which is the theme of Pope Benedict’s letter which we must bring to the world around us and this is no easy task. Love and sacrifice went hand in hand at Calvary when Christ was crucified and real love will always go hand in hand with sacrifice in the world today. You have been gifted this day by the Holy Spirit so you must be a gift to others. Generations of Catholic people in the West of Ireland sacrificed a great deal to bring the faith and the love of Christ to their families and friends. We are all children of that belief.
Today as you look beyond the hills of home to a people pained by earthquake, tsunamis and famine you must remember that your sacrifices for them is all the work of the Holy Spirit reaching into this century through you. One writer, in the slums of Peru says simply “the Holy Spirit is that the root of the cry of the poor, the spirit is the power given to those who have no power. He guides the struggle for the full freedom of oppressed people everywhere”.
From this Confirmation Day we look forward in hope to make a better parish, a better country and so, a better world. We hope to make the wilderness a memory and to fashion a future where no child goes hungry, no child is make a slave by today’s economic urgency and where the elderly are honoured for their years and their wisdom. We will go out from here with the words of God expressed by the Prophet Isaiah ringing in our memory; “do not dwell in the past or remember the things of old. Look I am doing a new thing. Do you not see? I am opening a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. As you leave here today I will send you out with an old Confirmation blessing from early in the last century.
“Go forth into the world in peace,
Be of good courage,
Hold fast to that which is good,
Render no evil to others,
Strengthen the faint hearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit”.