Saturday, Third Week of Lent, Cycle II

Published: March 29, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the confirmation Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Charleston on Saturday, March 29, 2014.

Bishop Taylor

A very common experience of childhood is to have an imaginary friend to talk to and play with. Adults expect children to outgrow this imaginary world of their own devising, but at the same time Christian parents introduce their children to another invisible friend who is not imaginary or of our own devising: Jesus Christ. Our earthly father and mother teach us how to talk to our heavenly Father, our mother Mary and our brother Jesus in prayer, companions whom we do not outgrow ... but in fact grow to know better as we grow emotionally and spiritually.

I think God gives us imaginary friends in childhood to open our minds to an invisible world that is more real than the limited reality available to our five senses. We all know that invisible realities exist: can you see electricity? Yet this invisible reality lights up our world. No one can say that living without the invisible power of electricity is the same as living with it. And no one can say that living without a living relationship with Jesus Christ is the same as living with him!

There are two ways to get to know Jesus. More famous are the getting-knocked-off-your-high-horse conversion stories like St. Paul experienced: a traumatic 180 degree change of direction that can be pinpointed to a specific eye-opening event. But more usual for those of us raised in the faith is the more gentle and healthier experience of getting to know Jesus as our real invisible — but not imaginary — friend from childhood. That's how I got to know him and grew to love him as my constant companion, with whom I have talked every day for more than 50 years.

And yet such things are small compared to the mercy and love of Jesus, which if truly embraced fills us to overflowing in a way that nothing else can.

But friendships are to be shared. We talk about our friends to other friends, sharing everything with them, including things that are so exciting that we just can't hold it in — say when you have a crush on someone and that's all you can think about. And yet such things are small compared to the mercy and love of Jesus, which if truly embraced fills us to overflowing in a way that nothing else can. A relationship with Jesus that sets us free from sin and death and everything that holds us bound in unhealthy ways.

This doesn't exempt us from the same adversities that everyone else faces, but it does deprive these troubles of the negative power that they otherwise would have over us — making even the worst things redemptive, opening our eyes to even bigger (if sometimes, unwelcome) realities and turning tragedies into opportunities to walk by faith as never before. If you let that realization sink in, there's no way you'll be able to keep quiet about it! I was about your age when I began to encounter Jesus in this new and personally more powerful way. The relationship begun in baptism, was changed by the gifts I received in Confirmation, which emboldened me to now share what I have received with others.

And wasn't that the experience of Jesus' disciples? They had been getting to know Jesus for several years. They had all been baptized and made their First Communion at the Last Supper, but what happened on Good Friday? All abandoned him except John, the Blessed Mother and a few women. And then on Easter Sunday, when he rose victorious, Jesus' physical relationship with reality had changed.

He could now walk through closed doors and at Emmaus when the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, he vanished from their sight — the Eucharist will now be the visible sign of his invisible presence. But it was only at Pentecost that these fearful disciples were sufficiently empowered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit to go forth to proclaim boldly and creatively the electrifying Good News that now filled their hearts to overflowing. And my dear friends, today is your personal Pentecost.

You know Jesus as an invisible companion who is as real — and indeed, more enduring — than anything else in your entire life. Talk to him, receive his mercy and forgiveness, give him your love, look around and see how superficial and sad and empty and mixed up are those who try to live without him, and then go forth empowered by this sacrament to share this gift with others, with special concern for the weakest and most broken among us!