On the 15th August 1998, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, a bomb planted in the crowded main street of Omagh in Co. Tyrone killed 30 people. An elderly lady, who saw the aftermath of the carnage told a television reporter that it was an irreverent act. “It was”, she said, “the death of dignity because all respect was gone”. As the news of the tragedy began to unfold the truth in her words became more and more real. When we looked at the shattered street and the sorrow and shock in so many faces it became clearer by the hour that a great lack of respect lay behind the sufferings of that day in Omagh.
Today you have invited the Holy Spirit to take hold of your lives. Since the day of your baptism you have been the presence of the risen Jesus Christ in today’s world. But, today, you want to let that presence become more visible in the lives you lead so that a tired world can find hope in your goodness. There are many people, today, who can no longer find Jesus Christ in the sacraments, in the bible or in their old family tradition and you, through the spirit of God working in your lives can be the challenge through which they might find their God again. And at the heart of all your work must lie respect.
All across the world today we see the lack of respect when starvation sweeps across Africa, where children are forced to take up arms in other peoples’ wars, where prisoners are humiliated, where hundreds die in Iraq weekly in a useless war and where young people of your age are sold into cheap slavery.
On this day then of your Christian life let us work with renewed energy for a new respect in these times. Every person is a child of God. We are all brothers and sisters in the great family of his creation and now and again we have to be reminded of the truth of St. Peter, when he said in the Acts of the Apostles, “the truth I have come to realise that God does not have favourites”. It would seem to suggest that God is someway colour-blind when it comes to his children. He sees no black, brown or white. He is not necessarily impressed by those who have great wealth or positions of great authority. He measures by the heart and not with the head. A great Chinese thinker 500 years before Christ told his followers; “without feelings of respect what distinguishes us from the beasts of the field”? The apostle wrote later “do not try to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord with the making of distinctions between classes of people”. (James 2:1).
There is no such thing as a beautiful generation if the elderly live in fear, if the sick are not cherished and if distinctions are still made between the normal and handicapped in society. We are all handicapped but some have greater capacity to hide our real handicaps from the greater public. So, now on our Confirmation Day we pledge to bring renewed reverence and respect to all.
It is sad to read so often the stories of young men and women who have destroyed their own dignity in the ruins of their own lives through the excessiveness use of alcohol and their dependence on drugs. So many had much to offer their families, their Church and their country but threw away that marvellous potential. They have become dependant now on others and their gifts remain hidden. Some will make heroic efforts to bring their lives together again but the pain and the many consequences of their lost days can never be recaptured. So, today on our Confirmation we pledge to carry a deep respect into our own lives.
I am always impressed by the Muslims who live among us for the reverence they carry to their Mosque their places of worship and to the name of their Prophet Mohammad. They use his name with great reverence, always adding “peace be upon his name”. Sadly, nowadays we use the name of Jesus cheaply. It is used to give emphasis to the most trivial conversation. Television spits his name at us for the sake of a cheap laugh and the holy name of God and Jesus Christ is banded about in our places of recreation, in our social gatherings and even in our school playgrounds. While Muslims remove their shoes on entering the Mosque, we trample through our churches with scant reverence for the ever-present Christ. The Church should be a place for quiet reflection in a busy, noisy world and a place where troubled minds might find peace. So, on our Confirmation Day, we pledge our reverence for our Church buildings where our families, in past years, found peace and strength in difficult days.
In these days when there is so much debate on global warming and the tragic effects it will have for our planet we are reminded again of our care for our earthly home. It is regrettable to find young people who subscribe to the need for the big powers, to meet the limits of toxic waste, unthinkingly add to the litter of their town and city streets. In the first book of the Bible we are told that when God created the world “he saw that it was good”. Ours is the duty to keep it good for ourselves and for the generations yet unborn. An old Chinese saying has put it; “the world is sacred, it can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you will ruin it. If you treat it like an object you will lose it”. We are familiar with an old saying “God always forgives, man sometimes, but nature never”. So, on this Confirmation day, we pledge to renew our efforts to reverence the earth and all creation.
You are a new generation who can change the face of the earth with power of the spirit of God which is present with you in a very special way today. There is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others. No one else can speech your message or sing your song. You are worth celebrating. You are unique. In all the world there is only one you, there is only one person with your talents, your gifts, your experience, so use them, in God’s name, for the sake of others.
We have a tradition in Ireland for reverencing the dead in their funeral and burial. “Paying our last respects” we call it. It would be sad to think that for some it was only respect they ever had.
I bless you and leave you today with the prayer from the Eastern Church:
“May Christ who is the way and truth,
send now again your Guardian Angels to go with you
as once God send the angel to Tobias.
For your glory keep them safe from all harm through
the prayers of the Mother of God.” Amen.