During his homily for Pentecost yesterday, the priest spoke about the sacrament of Confirmation and the parish children who had been confirmed the evening before. I was reminded of my own confirmation, many years ago, especially when he spoke of the old ritual where the bishop would slap the cheek of the confirmandi. I was only six years old when I received the sacraments of Confession, First Eucharist and Confirmation. It seems preposterous by today’s standards, but I can assure you that we were very well prepared and ready to receive them.
At that time, I lived in a community north of Montreal where there was a French Catholic school and an English one. The English community did not yet have a church, so the children from both schools were confirmed together in the French parish church. We practiced, of course, and I recall that an unfamiliar second-grade girl from the other school played the bishop. When it came time to slap our cheeks, she hauled off and Whack! Needless to say, when I approached the bishop that weekend, I braced myself for the smack in the face, the slap that symbolized I was now a soldier for Christ. The bishop, for his part, saw a sweet little six-year-old girl in her white finery, and gently touched his hand to my cheek. All these years later, I remember my relief!
I was really pumped about being a soldier for Christ, infused with these new Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the very same that He had given to the disciples at Pentecost. I was on fire! It saddens me to see that much of that kind of zeal is lost today – at a time when we need it more than ever. It is heartbreaking to see the stories of Christians, including young children, who profess Christ, courageously accepting martyrdom rather than deny Him. Heartbreaking, yes, but far better than several Westerners who publicly renounced their Christian faith in the face of death. I don’t judge them – I would not want to be in that position – but I pray I would have the courage. Sadly, I think they would be considered fools in our society had they chosen Christ first.
I was a catechist for twenty years, and I have not seen that kind of faith. Children are not exposed to those ideas anymore; they are completely unfamiliar with the saints that inspired my youth. They do not have a commitment to truth. They do not understand that there are some things worth dying for – these are ideas that are foreign to them, and worse, to their parents also. We need the Holy Spirit in our time. We need to cultivate the gifts that He has given us at Confirmation.
The image I have chosen today is an icon of the Holy Martyrs of Libya, 20 Coptic men and their African brother, who were beheaded on a beach. Did you know that the African man chose to become Christian at that hour, so moved was he by the courage of his confreres?
Holy Martyrs of Libya, pray for us!