Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yet another dose of the Holy Spirit?

At my parish kids are Confirmed in 7th or 8th grade. My 6th graders aren't far from that, so we cover some Confirmation fundamentals. Here's how we learn a few basics that'll prepare them for more specific Confirmation instruction in a year or so:

Who remembers what Messiah means? Umm...Jesus? Mmmm close, Jesus was the Messiah, but Mary never said, "Messiah, take out the trash....Messiah, fetch some water." It's not His name....what's Christos mean, we call Jesus the takers....OK, how about this, when a person was made king, like King David, what was rubbed on his head? Oh, oil! Yes, oil; another word for that oil is ointment. We don't say the King gets oiled, that sounds gross. Putting the ointment on his head is called what? Anointing! Yes. That's what we say in English. Sometimes we say Jesus was the Anointed One...why was that? Because he was a King. Yes.

Remind me please, what were the two main languages the Bible was written in...Chinese and Russian? No, Greek. Yes, Greek, and....? Latin? No, it was translated into Latin, that was later, good guess though. Who saw Prince of Egypt? Who were those people Pharaoh let go? Oh, Hebrews! Yeah, I guess they spoke Chinese? No, they spoke Hebrew! So the languages of the Bible are...Greek and Hebrew! Yes! And Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christos, or Christ would be...? Greek for anointed! Yes. They both mean anointed. At Baptism a baby gets oil put on its head, it's called Chrism, the Greek word for oil. When priests are ordained, their hands are anointed with Chrism, too. See how Christ and Chrism are related?

All these anointings with Holy Chrism mark a permanent change in the anointed people: the King is permanently King; a baby becomes a member of Christ's family; a priest is permanently a priest. When you are Confirmed, you'll be anointed, too, marking a permanent change in you. Sort of a spiritual doesn't come off. By the way, the Greek churches call Confirmation 'Chrismation'...why is that? Because that's Greek for Anointing? Yes, genius at work, you are right!

Somebody tell me, why were Abraham and Sara unhappy for a long time? They were sad because they couldn't have a baby. Yes, but God blessed them with a son even though they were very old...what was the son called? Remember Abraham nearly sacrificed him later....? Oh, Isaac! Yes, Isaac. And what does Isaac mean? Laughing! Yes, laughter; why is he called Laughter? 'Cause they were so happy to have a baby! Yes. I felt like laughing when my kids were born, too.

Isaac grew up and had two sons, Esau and Jacob. They were twins, but Esau popped out first, so he was the firstborn. The firstborn usually inherits from the father all the goodies (tents, camels, iPods) and the father's authority. The father blesses the firstborn son by laying his hands on him when he grows up; that's how he gets all the stuff and becomes the new boss of the family. But Esau wasn't too sharp, and Jacob tricked him out of his inheritance. Jacob and Rebekah, his mom, also tricked old Isaac, who couldn't see very well. They disguised Jacob, and Isaac laid hands on Jacob, and blessed him, but Isaac thought he was blessing Esau. So although in spirit he blessed Esau, with his hands Isaac blessed Jacob.

Esau found out about the trick, and told Isaac to bless him, too. But guess what? Isaac couldn't give Esau the blessing! And he couldn't take it back from Jacob, either! Isaac said, "Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.” So even though it doesn't seem fair, Isaac's misplaced blessing was permanent. Not even Isaac could undo it.

Some blessings are like Isaac's: so special that they make a permanent difference. You can usually tell a blessing is special when someone with authority puts his hands on the head of the person being blessed.

(This story runs from Genesis 25 to 27; as time allows in class, I flesh it out from the barebones account above. It's a great one for acting out: "Dad, you what? I was supposed to get the camels and the iPods!")

There are lots of other times when people received special blessings or authority by having hands laid on them:

Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) laid hands on Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, one hand per head (Gen: 48, this is a great one to act out!).

Moses laid hands on Joshua; a man named Ananias laid hands on St. Paul after St. Paul was blinded when Jesus appeared to him; St. Paul laid hands on Timothy, one of the first bishops, and later instructed Timothy about laying his own hands on others.

(The Bible also shows that people can be healed through laying of hands and anointing, but that's a subject for another class.)

Starting with the Apostles and Paul, the Church maintains the Old Testament tradition by "handing" down blessings and authority through bishops laying hands. It's a 2,000 year living chain that connects us back to Jesus. So in a couple of years when you're Confirmed, you'll become a part of that chain.

And when y'all are Confirmed, are y'all going to be bishops? Ha! No! Oh....are you going to be priests or deacons? No, we just stay the same. Well, actually you don't stay the same, there is a change, but the change isn't obvious.

When a baby is born, what's the first thing Christian parents do? Get the baby baptized. Yes, when the priest squirts ketchup on it? No! He uses water! Oh yeah, water....what does the water wash away? Original sin! Yes...and if the priest prays real hard but doesn't pour water on the baby, does that work? No! Right; like Jesus said, you have to be born again of water and spirit. So the water and the Holy Spirit together change the baby. Can you tell the baby is different? His head's wet. Uh-huh, thank you for your contribution.....after his head dries off, he seems exactly the same as before, but the Holy Spirit's made a big spiritual change. Original sin is gone, and the baby is permanently changed, even if he sins when he gets older. He can never be un-baptized.

Through Baptism the baby is cleaned of Original Sin by a big first dose of the Holy Spirit.

But in the New Testament we see the Apostles get extra doses of the Holy Spirit after Baptism. The second time is when the resurrected Jesus breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20)

Then on Pentecost Sunday the Apostles got a third dose of the Holy Spirit. What did that dose look like? You could see it above their heads.... Oh, fire! Yes, fire; they were fired up! It made them understandable by speakers of other languages, and spiritually strengthened them so they could go out in the world and spread the Good News. (Acts 2)

So we know the Apostles got at least three separate doses of the Holy Spirit. I doubt they looked any different after any of them, so don't be disappointed if you look the same after Confirmation.

Later in Acts we read of the Apostles 'handing' out second doses of the Spirit to people who were baptized, like this: "Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-18) The Bishops today lay hands that same way.

The dose of the Holy Spirit we all receive at Confirmation doesn't authorize us to forgive sins, but it is a bit like the Apostles' last dose on Pentecost. You'll be spiritually strengthened, and receive what are called Gifts of the Holy Spirit; the Greek word for that is charism. Everyone doesn't get the same charisms: like St. Paul said, a body has different parts, but they all work together. So you'll get something, and it may be years before you realize what it is. It took me about 30 years. My charism is making 6th graders suffer! We know that already. Oh.

These are the things that will happen to you at Confirmation: the Bishop, who is a successor to the Apostles, will lay his hands on you in blessing. You'll be anointed with Holy Chrism. You'll receive another dose of the Holy Spirit, giving you Gifts to help to live your Catholic faith. All these things have been done for God's children for thousands of years, and soon you'll be a link in that living chain of spiritual fire.

Think about it when you're about to be confirmed! Laying hands! Anointing! And....dose of the Holy Spirit! Yes! At Confirmation, pay....? Pay attention!

Yes, good sons and daughters, always pay attention.