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Have you been Confirmed?

“Confirmation …brings a deepening of baptismal grace. It strengthens our relationship to God the Father as adopted children, draws us nearer to Jesus, and increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us. Confirmation intensifies our bond with the Church to help us spread and defend the faith”.  – Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, “We Believe”, p. 96.

Have you been confirmed? If so, are you living it out? Are you spreading and defending the faith with the help of the Holy Spirit?

The quote above is from the book we use for RCIA and adult formation. The sacrament of Confirmation is all about what we do. It is about doing God’s Will. It is about going out on mission for Christ and the Church. It is about living virtue with the help of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (e.g., courage, wisdom, fear of the Lord). It is about bearing the fruits of the Spirit (e.g., love, joy, peace).

If you have not been confirmed, we will have a six-week summer series that you can attend in order to receive the sacrament. The series will run from May 31 – July 5, and be held at the rectory on Wednesday nights from 7-8 p.m. Please register by May 29 by calling me at the rectory (202-561-4178) or emailing me at frgreg@assumptiondc.org.

Confirmation is referenced in the readings for today. In the first reading (Acts 8), the Apostles “laid hands on (people who only had been baptized) and they received the Holy Spirit”. This is the sacred action in the sacrament of Confirmation. The current Apostles – the bishops – lay hands on people who are being confirmed, and then they bless them with oil saying, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”. That bestows the sacrament on them. This is what Acts 8 is referring to when it says that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon them”. They had the Spirit within them through Baptism, but had not had the Spirit come over them fully. It’s like with the Apostles: the Spirit came upon them as “tongues of fire” at Pentecost which was their Confirmation. And, what did that do for them? It sent them out. They had been baptized and received the Eucharist, but it wasn’t until they were confirmed that they went out and spread the Good News.

The Lord Jesus refers to Confirmation also in the Gospel (John 14). “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth”. When He says immediately after this that “you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you”, he seems to be indicating the same thing as the first reading – that this is for people who already have the Spirit in them from Baptism. And, it was not long after the Lord said this in John14 that the Spirit was sent upon the Apostles at Pentecost. So, again, He is promising to send the Spirit upon those who had been baptized in a new and fuller way. We now call this the sacrament of Confirmation.

If you still need the sacrament, please know that it is a good thing if you do the series and get confirmed. Our parish family will celebrate your Confirmation! It will take humility and courage because it will not be an easy thing to admit as an older adult that you have not been confirmed. But, through today’s readings and hopefully this column, the Lord is speaking to you about being confirmed. It is never too late to be confirmed! We are never retired from spreading the Gospel! And, of course, there will be additional graces and gifts that the Lord will give you in the process that we can’t imagine right now. If you take this bold step, I promise you that He will bless you abundantly. God is never outdone in generosity!

One final reminder: a pastor at a nearby parish made the same offer to his parishioners with a brief series for Confirmation, and 20-30 older adults signed up and were confirmed. Do not be afraid!

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg

What is your sacramental status?

Have you been confirmed? Made your first Holy Communion? Do you or someone you know need to be baptized?

A pastor at a nearby Catholic parish asked his people these questions in the past year. He was asking more to double-check that everyone in his parish had received all three of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist). He didn’t expect many of his parishioners who have been filling the pews of his parish for decades to let him know that they still needed to be confirmed. Some even needed to be baptized! He was surprised – pleasantly, I guess – that twenty or thirty people came to the classes at the parish in order to be confirmed, etc. He seemed quite happy to be able to have the conversation with these courageous folks not just about the sacraments, but about faith and life in general. He was a proud spiritual papa!

So, of course, I will ask you all the same questions. (Well, I already did in the first few lines here). If you need to be confirmed or baptized or make your first Holy Communion, then please attend our RCIA classes starting in January. The “classes” are more like discussion groups that I will lead after 10 am Mass on Sundays from January through April. We’ll use a book that will be a very good resource for you and will help facilitate our discussions on Catholic teachings and practices. As you might have noticed, I don’t like to waste anyone’s time, so our talks will be informative and substantial, but not boring. There won’t be any tests; we just need your commitment to attend the meetings.

Even if you don’t need to receive any of these sacraments, it would be good to attend the discussions and learn more about your Catholic faith. RCIA is normally for adults who are preparing to become Catholic. But even non-Catholics have said that every Catholic should attend RCIA classes!

To see what one of these classes would look like, here are some of the notes from the discussion on Baptism (in today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist offers his “class” on Baptism to the Pharisees and Sadducees):

Can someone get to Heaven without being baptized?

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” – Mark 16:16

Does baptism in the Spirit only occur through water?

1) By desire – the good thief on the cross, e.g.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

“in truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” – Lk 23:42-43

2) By blood – sharing in Jesus’ baptism by blood

“The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with

which I shall be baptized, you shall be baptized” – Mk 10:39

What do we receive at Baptism?

● Life in Christ

● Indwelling of the Holy Trinity

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”

● Grace

Real (vs Protestants who say Baptism is merely symbolic)

● Faith

“For all of you are children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ” – Gal 3:26-27

● Forgiveness of sins

“by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin”

● Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reverence, fear of the Lord, right judgement, courage

● Incorporation into the Church, the Body of Christ

“For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body” – 1 Cor 12:13

● An indelible spiritual mark

“Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.”

(Catechism, # 1272)

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Anointing of the Sick

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters [i.e. “priests”] of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).

“In this sacrament the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. Through the anointing with the blessed oil by the priest and through his prayers, Christ gives health and strength to the soul and sometimes to the body when we are in danger of death from sickness, accident, or old age.

…Through this sacrament the Church also exhorts the sick to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.

…The anointing of the sick can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age.

A sick person may be anointed before surgery whenever a serious illness is the reason for the surgery.

Elderly people may be anointed if they have become notably weakened even though no serious illness is present.

…The sacrament can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes gravely ill or if the condition becomes more grave during the same illness.

The sacrament is to be administered in a case of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead.”

State of Grace

This saying of the Lord from today’s Gospel (Lk 12:32-48) is part of the funeral rite for Christians. It is the Gospel passage used at the “Vigil of the Deceased”, otherwise known as a viewing or wake. As Catholics, we understand that to “be prepared” means to be in a state of grace (the Grace of Christ). It means to always be ready for the hour of death. If we live in a state of grace, then we are always ready. Frequent reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, are the primary means by which we live in Christ’s Grace. So, with God’s help, if we participate in Sunday Mass every week, confess throughout the year, and live the virtues, then we will be prepared. We will always be ready!

When I receive a call for a funeral, one of my first thoughts is, ‘was the person prepared?’ Did he or she live a sacramental life and die in a state of grace? Even if a Catholic dies having not been practicing their Catholic faith, there is still hope that they could be prepared through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. According to the Rite, Anointing of the Sick “gives the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who are sick: by this grace the whole person is helped and saved, sustained by trust in God, and strengthened against the temptations of the Evil One and against anxiety over death.”

Anointing of the Sick is not just about saving someone’s soul and shouldn’t be seen only as an emergency option at the 11th hour for someone away from the Church. It is a sacrament of spiritual and sometimes physical healing. Catholics should know about the power of the sacrament, and be ready to call for a priest to anoint when a family member is gravely ill, approaching surgery, or dying. Here is more information about the Anointing of the Sick from the Archdiocese of Washington.

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

The Experience of Ordination Day

At the parish this weekend, we are celebrating Father’s Day (early) and my 10th year anniversary (late) with one big BBQ party. Happy Father’s Day to all of our dads! And, thank you, Assumption, for commemorating my anniversary. Below is the blog post I wrote 10 years ago, “The Experience of Ordination Day.”

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

It’s still hard for me to put into words what happened last Saturday, May 27, at my Ordination to the priesthood and first Mass of Thanksgiving, but I’ll try. In general terms, it was an experience of the Holy Spirit…the glory of God…the kingdom of Heaven. It was awesome!!

I was moved powerfully by the Spirit at the Ordination. During the Rite of Ordination, the twelve of us lay prostrate while the Church sang the Litany of Saints. I internally made my promises for my life as a priest to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. It was intense. I laid down my life as I laid on the floor, and asked the Holy Trinity to help me live out my promises. It brought many tears because it was one of the most profound and serious senses of intimacy I’ve ever had.

Then, after the laying on of hands (the moment of ordination), all of the priests – about 200 – laid hands on each of us twelve. Tears again! The picture from The Washington Post didn’t show them which was probably cool. Again, I really can’t put into words why I was crying and was moved so much, other than to say it was the Holy Spirit. What that means is that I was open to receiving the Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and was REALLY receiving the Spirit (I remember reading once that the gift of tears is a gift of the Spirit). So, at the Ordination, when I wasn’t shedding tears of joy, I was smiling with great joy!!

After the almost 3 hour Ordination, I gave “first blessings” for over an hour. That was intense, too! The coolest and most powerful part was when people kissed my hands. My hands were anointed with sacred Chrism just after the laying on of hands, and now are the hands of Christ (when I perform the sacraments). That was one of the moments that told me things were different, and that now I’m a priest!

The first Mass which was later that evening…I was never really nervous – too happy to be nervous. We had many different things going on in the Mass, and I was very focused on them. Everything went so well, thanks be to God, and it really was a glorious liturgy. It was a normal Sunday vigil Mass with a few things added: a friend of mine coming into the Church, and Adoration and Procession of Jesus in the Eucharist in front of about 200 youth around the altar area.

From what I’ve gathered, many people at the first Mass had a very powerful spiritual experience. Again, it was an experience of the Holy Spirit. At one point in the Adoration and Procession, I could feel all 1000 sets of eyes on Jesus in the Eucharist. If that’s true or even close to being true, then we all had the same experience – a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the person of a newly ordained priest. Faith is awesome stuff!! It’s all about faith!

Now that we are post-Memorial Day, summer has unofficially begun. I hope that these months will provide some rest and relaxation as well as quality time with family and friends for all of you. It will obviously be a big summer in our parish with the 100th anniversary coming in August. While summer brings exciting trips and vacations, hopefully, it provides an opportunity to do some reading. Can that include spiritual reading? Every Catholic should be doing some spiritual reading every day for at least 5-10 minutes, so if we’ve been lacking in that, summer gives us a chance.

Triumph Over Temptation

1st Sunday of Lent
Family story
“Filled with the Holy Spirit”
Fasting of Christ
    Spiritual strength
5 Ways to triumph over temptation
Fasting
Scripture
Prayer
Reason
Sacraments
Eucharist —> Freedom

With the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy

About two hundred years ago in France lived a very holy priest, Fr. John Vianney. Fr. Vianney loved his people, and prayed for them constantly. He was extremely devoted to hearing their confessions, spending about 15 hours a day in the confessional! Eventually, people came from all over France to go to him for Reconciliation because of his extraordinary natural and supernatural gifts. He is the only parish priest who has been canonized a saint.

In a rare outward appearance, the Devil tried to disrupt St. John Vianney’s ministry of healing. Many nights, he would attack Fr. Vianney; people heard loud and strange noises coming from the rectory. One night, they saw fire coming from Fr. Vianney’s bedroom: the Devil had lit Father’s bed on fire! At first, Fr. Vianney was afraid, but then he got used to the attacks. He finally figured out the timing of it all: every night the Devil came to attack him, a big sinner would come to Confession the next day – someone who hadn’t been to Confession in 20 or 30 or more years. With the help of Christ, St. John Vianney withstood the attacks of Satan, and won victory over him.

The Devil makes another rare appearance in today’s Gospel (Lk 4:1-13): he tempts Jesus in the desert three times. Usually, Satan works in invisible and very subtle ways. His main objective is to take people away from God without them even knowing of his presence. He has made his presence known a few times – the Garden of Eden, to Christ in the desert, and to a few people like St. John Vianney.

It’s very important for us to know that the Devil can never force us to do anything against our will. He tempts us in brilliant ways; he is much smarter than any of us. On our own, we can’t defeat him; but, with the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy.

Christ wins victory over the Devil in the desert and in his Death and Resurrection. In the desert, he is tempted in his human nature. He wins victory for two main reasons, I believe: 1) he is fasting, and 2) he is “filled with the Spirit”. Fasting brings spiritual strength. When we deny our bodies in some way, we build up inner or spiritual strength. During Lent, we imitate Jesus’ fast of 40 days in order to build up our souls, and to resist the temptations of the Devil.

We can imitate our Lord in being “filled with the Spirit” through our reception of the sacraments. The sacraments are the primary ways for us to be filled with the Spirit.

The Church strongly encourages us to come to the Eucharist often -for example, going to daily Mass during Lent – and going to Confession. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with God’s love, imitate Christ, and are ready to defeat the Devil and his temptations.

–Sincerely in Christ,

Fr Greg