What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: May 3, 2007
Soon after being ordained a bishop, I was once told by a Chicago priest friend of mine that sooner or later I would tire of the endless number of Confirmations that I had to perform.
In Chicago I celebrated the Sacrament about 80 times per year, in the Diocese of Belleville, I presided at approximately 60 Confirmations per year, and here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, I celebrate the Sacrament about 70 times per year.
The earlier priestly counsel has not proven true. Even today, after almost 24 years of Confirmations and more than 1,500 separate celebrations, it is still one of the activities that I love to do the most. From the Confirmation of 310 eighth-graders at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Orland Park, Ill., at two separate ceremonies—my trophy accomplishment—to the recent Confirmation of seven young men at St. Peter the Rock (a single gender event that was only the second such Confirmation that I have celebrated), I have been deeply enriched by sharing this wonderful moment with young people in Chicago, in Belleville, and now in Atlanta.
I enjoy engaging our young people at that moment when they receive the Gift of God’s Holy Spirit and fill their parents, their parish, and their Archbishop with such hope. I also learn a great deal from the celebration of Confirmation. I learn that youngsters have an open heart for the Church that we need to capture more effectively. I discover that many of our young people can ask profound questions of Faith if we allow them the opportunity to raise such questions.
A week or so ago, I met with a young man at St. Mary Magdalene and he asked about what the Church teaches regarding heaven and our destiny to live in union with God. Clouded over in his questions were some of the issues that pop culture suggest about who might be in heaven with us—our pets, people from other religions who might not know Christ, the identification of happiness with possessions, beauty or with a special place, and the importance of friends and family members that we grow to love here in heaven with us. His questions provided me the opportunity to reflect with him upon the essence of the Church’s teaching about what heaven really will be for each of us—a perfect union with God—the One who loves us most and for Whom we are destined.
A bright young woman from Peachtree City asked me how I knew so much about the Saints; I don’t believe that I know as much as she might have imagined. I told her that following the Saints for me is so much more satisfying and valuable a pursuit than following the silly exploits of Hollywood’s latest heartthrobs or the sporting world’s latest hero. The Saints lived lives of significance and value. They did not seek popularity or promote a cult of self-importance. In fact, most of the Saints did not think that they were all that important and certainly would never have sought to be idealized. And the witness and example of the Saints will far outlast the current stable of popular public idols—American or foreign born.
Then my favorite recent encounter was with a young man from Duluth who chose the Confirmation name—Peter. When I confronted this modern-day Peter with the fact that his namesake, the Apostle Peter, had not always been all that faithful to Christ and that tradition says that he had “quite the mouth on him,” the young man shot back immediately—“Peter and I have a lot in common!” If he rightfully realized that we do share much in common with God’s Saints, he might just be well on his way to becoming one himself!