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Genuine faith is a way of life in community

Archbishop Wenski's homily on Ascension Sunday, at confirmation Mass

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Mass for the feast of the Ascension, May 21, 2023, at St. Mary Cathedral in Miami. During the Mass, he confirmed a number of people who had been baptized in other Christian denominations along with adults who were baptized as children but catechized as adults.

I greet all of you, our candidates for full communion; I greet the sponsors and family members who accompany them today.

To those who will be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, to those who were baptized Catholics but were only catechized in your adult years, I say: Welcome home!

As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, the Scriptures teach us that genuine faith is a way of life in community, for Christ remains present in and through his disciples “until the end of time.” And so, today’s feast of Our Lord’s Ascension is a perfect day to enter into full communion with that community of faith which is the Catholic Church.

Allow me to quote an Englishman. G. K. Chesterton was an English man of letters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He surprised and dismayed many of his friends when he became a Roman Catholic. When pressed for an explanation, he told them: “I became a Catholic so that I could get my sins forgiven.”

That is a pretty good reason. And, if we were to put out a “want ad” to seek more converts, perhaps the headline could read, “Sinners wanted,” or “Only sinners need apply.”

This is important for all of us to remember, especially those of you who will formally enter the Church today by making your profession of faith and receiving the sacrament of confirmation. There would be no reason to become a Catholic if we did not know that doing so was necessary for our salvation. And who would bother if they did not acknowledge themselves to be sinners? That is, that they needed to be saved. Do not be scandalized, then, that the Church which Christ founded to save sinners is, well ... full of sinners.

That’s why, on this side of Judgment Day, we can call ourselves “practicing Catholics.” Our earthly pilgrimage in this “valley of tears” is our one-time opportunity to “practice” the Catholic faith until we get it right. 

The Church is holy – and you will give your assent to that proposition as you recite the Creed. The Church is holy – but not because we, her members, are holy (hopefully, we are working at it, and like I said, it does take practice). The Church is holy because of the Spirit who guides her. The Holy Spirit sent by Jesus Christ makes the Church his living Body. Through the proclamation of the Word of God and the administration of the sacraments, that Holy Spirit sanctifies us, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection the Holy Spirit makes us, imperfect, sinful sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, into God’s sons and daughters by adoption.

Today, in the sacrament of confirmation, you are “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. This seal is called a “character,” marking the person who receives it as called to fulfill the Church’s mission in all the circumstances of life.

Our Catholic faith is not a faith in an ideology or in a series of propositions. Our Catholic faith is fundamentally about a person, Jesus, who invites us into a relationship of friendship with himself – and with those who walk with him. Before your anointing with the sacred chrism, you will be asked to make your profession of faith. That profession of faith is our “yes” to God.

But every “yes” also implies a “no.” Now, before you can say yes to someone or something, you also have to say no to someone else, to something else. And, of course, before you make that profession of faith, you are asked to renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises.

In renewing the promises of your baptism, in making this profession of faith today, you pledge that – despite whatever trials and tribulations you may face – you will walk through this life as a friend of God, as a friend of Jesus and in the company of his friends, that is his Catholic Church.

The content of that yes to God is expressed in the 10 Commandments. And it is important that we understand that the commandments are not just a pack of prohibitions. Don’t allow yourselves to think of the obligations you will assume as Catholics in that way.

The commandments put forth a great vision of life and show us the way to true freedom. Like a branch grafted onto the vine bears fruit, so we too by keeping the commandments – not only “in word or speech, but in deed and truth” – we remain in Christ and he in us.

The Holy Spirit bestows seven gifts – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts assist us to live our “yes” to God and be his witnesses.

And when we are responsive to the grace of confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The tradition of the Church names 12: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

With those gifts of the Holy Spirit, may you bring forth these fruits in your own lives and in this way be his witnesses. Since you are now to be considered practicing Catholics, remember that practice makes perfect.

Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful, enkindle in them the fire of Your Love.
Come and fill the hearts of all men and renew the face of the earth!