Two years ago, on Monday evening during Holy Week, I was in the sacristy of my parish church preparing to offer the evening Mass, when somebody came in and told me that there was an urgent phone call from a parishioner. I called him from the sacristy and he informed me that his wife had gone into labor, and both his wife and his newborn son were in critical condition. I said the fastest Mass I've ever said and drove to the hospital.
It amazes me really. There we were in the midst of all of these machines and tubes, things beeping and pumping. And yet, even though such technology is amazing and wonderful, that whole room--grandparents, father, doctors and nurses--all paused and turned their attention to a man holding a little jar of water (provide by the nurses) and a little container of Chrism Oil. "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." In those brief moments, Matthew became a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, was freed from Original Sin, and was given the Holy Spirit in order to bear witness to Christ.
Happily, both mother and son survived that day. But, I am always struck by what happened in that moment. This guy's whole world was crashing down around him, and he had the wherewithal to call the priest and seek the sacraments of the Church. He believed in the power and the necessity of the sacraments and he acted accordingly.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that there are two parts to the virtue of Faith. The first part is what happens interiorly. This is called belief. This is when we believe what God has said and we believe it because he is the one who has said it. This is what St. Peter speaks about in today's second reading. He tells us to reverence Christ in our hearts. But, St. Peter goes on to say that we should be prepared to give a defense. This is the second aspect of Faith. It is the external act. We call this "confession." It is to profess--by our words and by our deeds--what we believe in our hearts.
For many of us, perhaps this second aspect of faith is weaker than the interior aspect. We privatize our faith and say things like, "I'm kind of private about my faith." The people of Samaria whom we heard about in the first reading from Acts today must have been eternally grateful that the deacon Philip was not private in his faith. After suffering persecution in Jerusalem, Philip goes to Samaria and bears witness in word and deed to his interior faith in Christ. We are told that the whole town was filled with great joy as a result. This is what happens when people encounter Christ. They are filled with great joy.
When I was a pastor of a parish, I had a magnificently beautiful church. I was always grateful that the people who came before me were not people who said, "My faith is kind of private." Instead, they built something magnificent for all the world to see. When we live our interior faith by publicly witnessing to it--through word and deed--then we build something beautiful. We build--by God's grace--something that brings joy to the lives of others.
But, it wasn't enough for these people to experience an interior joy. So, the apostles came to them from Jerusalem and gave them--through the laying on of hands--the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. This was so that they too could give public witness to the Faith. When we are confirmed, we are given power to be witnesses to the world.
Whenever readings like this come up, I make sure that I remind people about the importance of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. Perhaps some of you have never received this Sacrament. Don't wait any longer! Confirmation complete something that is lacking in us. It makes us able to live the faith that we have received. We need God's help to live publicly what we believe. Jesus' words today in the Gospel are a bit frightening to me. He says that loving him isn't simply a matter of the heart. It involves something external. It involves keeping the commandments. Again, what we believe in our heart is only a part of Faith. It also requires an external manifestation. This doesn't depend solely upon our efforts. It depends firstly upon the grace of Christ. If you haven't been confirmed, allow Christ to give you this beautiful sacrament so that you can witness to others.
For those of us who have received this Sacrament, let's not forget that we did! Let's depend upon the grace of this sacrament so that we are never ashamed or embarrassed to give a defense for our Faith.
Jesus wants us to bear witness to him everywhere and to everyone! He wants there to be great joy in every heart and in every city. It is precisely the Gospel that brings such joy.
Let us all profess--through our words and our deeds--what we believe in our hearts. Let us draw upon the strength and power of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on the confirmed. Wherever we go, to whomever we speak, let us bear witness to Christ. May we boldly carry the Good News of Christ with us so that it may be said of every place and every heart we encounter, "There was great joy there."