Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Vigil Old Testament Readings
Romans 6:3-11
Mark 16:1-7


April 19, 2003, Easter Vigil

At the local clergy association meeting, the topic of the moment was a severe infestation of all the area churches by bats. For some reason they all had bats in their belfries. One after another the clergymen recounted the things that they had tried to get rid of the bats. One minister said, “I tried ringing the bells all during the day so they couldn’t sleep but that didn’t work.” Another chimed in, “I hired a professional exterminator and he got rid of them but only for a few days and then they were back in greater numbers.” And so it went around the room until they all realized that the Catholic priest was not complaining. So they all turned to him and asked him why he was so quiet. He calmly stated that he did not have any bat problem at all. How did he accomplish that they all wanted to know. “Simple”, he said, “I just confirmed them all and I never saw them again!”

Too often Catholics in our culture look at Confirmation as graduation but only in the sense of ending. As we know, graduation is the end of one thing but the beginning of another. Confirmation is all about beginning. It is one of the three-part sacrament of initiation of the Church, along with Baptism and Eucharist. In a few minutes we will bless the font, using prayer and the Easter candle, and then we will all be invited to renew our baptismal promises, and then bless ourselves with the newly blessed water from the font. Then two of our community, Lori Teska and Susan Sweeney will be confirmed, and then join with this community for the first time in receiving communion.

As part of the ritual of confirmation, Fr. Butler will pray for God to pour out the Holy Spirit on Lori and Susan to strengthen them with his gifts and to anoint them to be more like Christ. Then he will anoint them with the Sacred Chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam, sealing them with the gift of the Spirit. Chrism, or anointing with oil, has been used since antiquity to mark people for special tasks. All of us who are baptized have been anointed with Chrism, some of us again in confirmation, and some yet again in Holy Orders.

Paul, in that letter to the Romans, says that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus. And the ritual of confirmation talks about anointing to be more like Christ, and finally in the Eucharist we pray to become the body and blood of Christ. I just want to spend a few minutes reflecting on what it means to become more like Christ. Did you ever stop to think that Christ is not Jesus’ last name? People in that culture did not have last names the way they do in our culture. They were referred to by their lineage or their origin. So Jesus would have been Jesus of Nazareth as he is sometimes called in the Bible, or Jesus bar Joseph where bar means “son of”. So if Christ is not his name what is it? It is a description of his role. It means, very simply, the anointed. The Aramaic word is Messiah. Jesus is one anointed by God to bring salvation to the world.

But God’s plan for bringing salvation to the world is not limited to Jesus of Nazareth. God’s plan ultimately involves all of humanity. From the very beginning of our salvation history, God has chosen, and anointed humans to be active participants in his plan to bring salvation to this creation. From Abraham and Sarah and their descendents, to the Jews in particular, to Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples, to those Jesus calls today to be his followers. By this chrism, we are anointed in baptism and sealed in Confirmation, and strengthened time after time in the Eucharist to become the body and blood of Christ, because Christ is more than just Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the head of this body but we are anointed to be the arms and legs and kidneys and eyebrows and muscles of this Christ.

One way of looking at how Jesus’ death brings salvation is as a sacrifice that paid the debt for our sins. But that is only one way of looking at the paschal mystery. Another way is that before Jesus of Nazareth died and then rose, he was limited to a single time and place. By dying and rising, Jesus enabled the chosen of God, the anointed of God, the Christ of God to extend to include all of us, across all time and all places.

So let us renew our baptismal promises in the waters of the font. Let us be strengthened again as we welcome Susan and Lori into full communion with the Church in their confirmation, and as a community let us come to the table of the Lord to become more fully, more enthusiastically Christ, the anointed of God, set aside for the salvation of the world.

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