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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: July 2, 2019
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor has preached the following homily during confirmation Masses in Catholic parishes across Arkansas in 2019.
One of the curious things about salmon and other fish that live in rivers is that they are constantly swimming against the current. If they didn’t, they’d all eventually end up in the ocean, carried away by the current. Indeed, the life cycle of salmon has them born in fresh water upstream, floating down with the current to live and grow in the ocean, and then once they mature, they swim upstream against the current to breed in the same spot where they were born.
Trout don’t migrate, but they still have to swim against the current just to stay in place. In both cases, the struggle against the current makes for good fish muscles and good eating that pond-raised fish can’t match. Going against the flow requires strength and makes the fish strong.
In the Gospels we find that Jesus insists continually that the same is true for him and his followers. Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God is countercultural and so following him will entail swimming against the current of public opinion. Jesus will experience rejection by people who are self-satisfied and feel no need to make the changes in their lives necessary to experience the salvation he has come to offer.
The word, “confirmation” means “strengthened with” the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. A lot of people think this is about you “confirming” your faith, saying you agree with it and it is true that you do profess your faith as part of the ceremony, but that’s not the most important thing that happens.
He will experience persecution by the religious leaders who feel undermined when he criticizes their teaching and behavior. He will be executed by the Romans who considered him a threat to their hold on power. And he tells his followers — including you and me — that if we truly follow him, the same will be in store for us. We will be “like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
No one can accuse Jesus of pretending that doing God’s will is always going to be easy, pleasant and well received. It was for this reason that he promised to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen his disciples for what lies ahead. And of course they received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost and thus the Church was born. The same is true today. In the course of your preparation for confirmation, you should have learned about many areas of life where we Catholics are countercultural, where we are swimming against the current. Issues of social justice and human rights. The special claims that the poor have on us, people who have no voice, whom society disregards.
We don’t usually get much push-back when we do works of charity, but some people really do get angry when we speak out about the God-given right to immigrate when desperate circumstances so require, or the immorality of the death penalty in countries like our own where there are alternatives, or the need to restructure our economy in a way that better serves the poor, or the universal right to receive medical care.
And many other controversial issues: the sanctity of marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman. The immorality of artificial contraception, sterilization and most of all, the absolute immorality of abortion. We are countercultural and when we voice these truths, lots of people don’t like it. One reason they get so mad is that deep in their hearts they are uneasy. They know instinctively what is right and they don’t like it. And just as with Jesus 2,000 years ago, they think that by rejecting the messenger they can silence the truth. But in the end, the truth will prevail. “The light is stronger than the darkness.”
So if you intend to be faithful to Jesus, expect to spend your life swimming against the current. And this sacrament, which you receive today will help you do just that. Indeed the very word, “confirmation” means “strengthened with” the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. A lot of people think this is about you “confirming” your faith, saying you agree with it and it is true that you do profess your faith as part of the ceremony, but that’s not the most important thing that happens.
After all, the sacraments are a lot more about what God does than what we do; he takes the initiative, we just respond. And today through this sacrament, God sends the Holy Spirit to strengthen you so that you will be able to swim against the current, resist peer pressure and do what you know is right. And if you do so, you will soon see that just as with salmon and trout, drawing on these gifts and going against the flow when that is the right thing to do will make you strong … in this case, strong in the Lord.