Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. In Irish parishes all over the country, priests are ministering the sacrament of Confirmation to the young people in their communities. The ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop but because of impact of COVID-19, bishops have given the faculties to their priests to minister the sacrament in these strange times. On Wednesday this week, I have the privilege to confirm 19 pupils from Our Lady of Fatima Special School here in Wexford.
In preparation for the celebration, I reflected on the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit that the candidates receive – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge and courage. In the light of this Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, what struck me was the Spirit’s gift of courage that needs to be revived in all of us and not just in our young people.
The reading speaks of the virtuous person being tested in many ways and by many people. The reading even speaks of this virtuous person suffering terribly and being put to death despite their innocence. In order to remain steadfast, this righteous person will need the gift of courage to bear witness to all that is true and right. Here is the gift of courage that we also need to pray for today – that we too might remain steadfast to do what is right and live by what is true.
One of the most admirable features of Jesus’ life is his courage. Nowhere is this seen better than at his passion where the threat of violence, torture and death hung over him. As he faced his accusers, if he continued ‘on message’ and did not tone down his teaching then terrible suffering and execution awaited him. He knew this but despite that he did not let threats or intimidation stop him from being faithful to his message and mission.
What happened to him was the perfect fulfilment of that reading from the Book of Wisdom where evil cringes in the face of goodness and seeks to destroy it. That reading anticipates Jesus as the righteous man who was tested with cruelty and torture and who was condemned to a shameful death. Through his passion, the Lord’s strength was his faith in the Father and his fidelity to the truth. I love the line from the passion where Jesus is beaten for answering back the High Priest: ‘If I have spoken wrongly, point it out. Otherwise why did you strike me?’ (John 18:23). He had come to bear witness to the truth. For this he was born.
Have you ever met with resistance, ridicule and criticism for doing the right thing? Through what you suffered, was the truth your rock and faithfulness to it, your strength? If it was then rejoice for you share in the courage of Christ that was given to you at your baptism and Confirmation as a gift of the Holy Spirit. If God is at the center of our lives, then all trials that come our way will be those ‘through which we triumph by the power of him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37). On the other hand, if the truth is not our strength or if we compromise our integrity to avoid ridicule then fear is our constant companion. Truth is not always pleasant or what we want to hear. Doing the right thing is not always the easiest way or most popular choice. But living by the truth and doing what is right are the foundations of being courageous people.
We have been baptised into the courage of Jesus. He is our courage and strength to face any obstacle, illness or difficulty. His promise is close to us: ‘In the world you will have trouble but be brave, I have conquered the world’ (Jn. 16:33). God does not need greatness of effort. He needs greatness of people. In Mass this weekend, we pray for the strength to persist and the courage to endure. May He make our hearts kind but our spirits brave. If we are going through a hard time right now, maybe it is best not to ask ‘Why me?’ but ‘What can I learn from all of this? Or ‘how am I being called to love in all this?’ Then, trust God and keep on doing what is right and living by what is true. Never give up but grow up into the people God calls you to be. In the words of the Psalm: ‘Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord’ (Ps. 31:24).