I love the Sacrament of Confirmation because of that phenomenal truth. I have taught several confirmation classes through the years, but my first class back in 1996 has a special place in my heart. I learned so much about the power of the Holy Spirit that year. I had started out teaching 5th grade with another mom. Our husbands were deployed or training to deploy to Bosnia. Mine was gone; hers was in training. We alternated Sundays in the classroom. It was okay, but not completely satisfying. I’d been praying for a couple of years for the Holy Spirit ‘s guidance and wisdom. And I had definitely seen the effects of those prayers. I was so excited to share that Good News, that we could ask the Holy Spirit’s assistance and He would assist, and I felt a deep yearning to teach confirmation. But I lacked the self-confidence, or more accurately the trust in Him, to actually sign up to actually sign up to do it.
Well, as God would have it, the two men who were teaching the Confirmation class (made up almost entirely of teenaged girls) were both deploying and so a new teacher was needed to take over the Confirmation class. My co-teacher for 5th grade approached me and told me of the situation. She was good friends with the REC and suggested me as a decent substitute for the two men. I was overjoyed! God was answering my prayers – He was pushing me toward this desire of my heart that I had not trusted Him enough to do myself. I readily accepted. Boy, oh boy, I was going to share my faith and love of the Holy Spirit and all He could do for each of them…It was going to be awesome.
So, my first day of being the Confirmation teacher was terrible. I felt I’d been punched in the face by a professional boxer, metaphorically speaking. The girls were sullen, angry with me for not being the two ‘cool’ guys who had been their teachers. Guys who let the kids call them by their first names. I told them the first day they could call me Mrs. MacFarland or Mrs. Mac. They glared at me, or rolled their eyes. I think I heard a hiss! But there was mostly stony silence. I felt like crying.
The next thing I did was talk about our Christian faith; I am a little hazy on the details after all these years, but I do recall with crystal clarity that one of the girls told me she didn’t believe Christ was God. OK. Not something I was expecting from a high school student in a confirmation class. So we began to discuss this issue and in my unprepared state I said something about, ‘you can’t really call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe in the Divinity of Christ’ and maybe I asked her, in the heat of the moment, ‘what are you doing in this class?’ as the ‘discussion’ grew more heated. (Not my finest hour!) Because God is merciful, class ended right about there…Everyone got up and left rather abruptly and without speaking to me. Not one of them. Not even the one boy in the class who seemed to have gone to his ‘happy place’ during the course of the discussion.
So, as I unplugged my boom box CD player, (there was always a theme song for each lesson; those of you who know me know I love my music), and gathered up my books, I was talking to God. And boy was I angry. YOU wanted me to teach this class. YOU provided this opportunity by placing me here at this exact point in time. YOU put this desire in my heart. What the heck? I discuss in my book how it’s okay to share your frustrations and anger with God for two reasons: 1) He knows about it anyway, so why try to hide it? And 2) He can take it.
And as I flipped the light switch with my elbow due to the burden in my arms, I had the following thought, I can’t say I ‘heard it’, but it was definitely a clear thought in my mind: “I never said it would be easy.”
My interior response, “Touché, Lord.”
The next week things got better. I had a response for the young lady’s issue about Jesus’ divinity that I got from Scripture. I shared the passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus refers to Himself as “I AM”. And then directed her to the story of Moses on the Mount in his conversation with God in the burning bush who calls Himself “I AM”. It was my first attempt at helping her to come to terms with the Divine Persons of the Trinity. We’d get to the Holy Spirit later. I also played a song for the class that directly spoke to the question of Jesus and who He was and is. It’s a song by Michael Card: “It seems I’ve imagined Him all of my life as the wisest of all of mankind. But if God’s Holy wisdom is foolish to men, He must have seemed out of His mind. For even His family said He was mad; and the priests said a demon’s to blame. For God in the form of this angry young man could not have seemed perfectly sane. When we in our foolishness thought we were wise, He played the fool and He opened our eyes. When we in our helplessness thought we were strong, He became weak to show we were wrong.”
At the end of the class, as everyone else abruptly departed – again – this young lady took the time to carefully fold the words to the song which I’d handed out on slips of paper to the students before the song began (I always share the lyrics), and she deliberately placed it into the back pocket of her jeans. She smiled at me as she left the room. Score! We had a tough rest of the year. She asked LOTS of great questions and I would answer to the best of my ability with the help of the Holy Spirit. I told her one time she was pondering questions I hadn’t thought of till I was in college. Which I think she sincerely appreciated. And she was confirmed. I didn’t see her again after the Confirmation Mass, I don’t believe. But I still pray for her. I pray for all the kids I’ve ever taught in a faith formation class through the years. And there’ve been plenty. Not every day, but definitely throughout the years.
I pray for them, that they will see Christ in others and that those others will help them continue on their journey to Him. If that’s the reason Miriam was in my class, that’s enough for me.
So, as with Miriam, my default for most questions from non-Catholics and under-catechized Catholics alike is Scripture first. It is our salvation history. It is the Word of God and, as described in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, should be “venerate(d) just as (we) venerate the body of the Lord. It is the inspired word of God and it inspires us, it is where our Father in Heaven meets with His children and speaks with them.”
Henri de Lubac writes in the Church in the World that “Scripture is itself wholly ‘the book of the battles of the Lord’. He goes on to say, and I had to share this with a group of Catholic Military wives, that “The Church is militant. She is the Army of Christ”…We need to understand that to “recognize the one God is to declare total war on all others.”
“The Incarnate Word is our King…and all the saints who lived before His coming are…Soldiers who form the advance guard of the royal army.”
Then there are “Soldiers who march behind their King,…(And) He Himself takes His place at the center of His army, and He advances surrounded by the defensive wall which His troops form around Him.”
“All are fighting for the same King, under the same standard,” they “pursue the same enemy and are crowned in the same Victory.”
“The Church is unceasingly torn by internal and external conflict.”
“The world views as an insult and a provocation anything that does not conform to its own ideas. The Church in the world is thus Church amid conflict.”
“She has to begin by tearing us away from the false peace which was that of the world before Christ and in which we are always trying to take refuge again.”
“The Church must equip us all with ‘the armor of God’…”The Church must clash with the powers of this world.”
“Her reaction to misfortune is one of hope.” “She cannot be unfaithful to the Christ who was a sign contradicted.”
The Church “cannot renounce her commission to give authoritative direction to the conscience by reminding everyone, on every possible occasion, of the universal Kingship of Christ.”
The Church “claims for the servants of the Gospel and the faithful of Christ, nothing other than common rights like security and freedom.”
“The fight goes on with in each individual one of her members and will go on within till the end of time. The Church is well aware of this fact.”
“If the Church were, in each of us, more faithful to her mission, she would doubtless often be the more loved, as her Master is loved. She would be more readily listened to,” by some, but she would also be “more misconceived and more persecuted.” As our Savior was misconceived and persecuted. He knew we couldn’t do this on our own. So He sent us His Holy Spirit. We can do none of it alone. And we cannot “love with the Love with which God loves”, without the power of Holy Spirit within us. The words to a fabulous song on this topic are below my words. I encourage you to Google “You Are I Am” by MercyMe. As I mentioned earlier, I love music! It is truly the universal language.
But now, I would like to ask you to join me in prayer. It’s from Don Schwager .
“The Holy Spirit gives us His 7-fold gifts of wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence for God and His ways, and a holy fear in God’s presence that we may live God’s way of life and serve in the power of His strength. Lord Jesus Christ, your death brought life for us. Fill us with your Holy Spirit that we may walk in freedom and joy as a child of God and as an heir with Christ of an eternal inheritance.” We ask this in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“You Are I Am” – MercyMe
I’ve been the one to shake with fear
And wonder if You’re even here
I’ve been the one to doubt Your love
I’ve told myself You’re not enough
I’ve been the one to try and say
I’ll overcome by my own strength
I’ve been the one to fall apart
And to start to question who You are
You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am
You are I am
I’ve been the one held down in chains
Beneath the weight of all my shame
I’ve been the one to believe
That where I am You cannot reach
The veil is torn
And now I live with the Spirit inside
The same One, the very same One
Who brought the Son back to life
Hallelujah, He lives in me!
(Here’s the link for the MercyMe video!)
(Art: Photo of a panel from Marc Chagall’s America Windows, located at the Art Institute of Chicago)