We celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at the end of April; there were twenty-five confirmands. I had asked the parents to attend the classes along with their students. I hope the students benefited from it; I’m fairly certain the parents did.
At one of the first instructional sessions I explained that, early in the Twentieth Century, the Sacrament of Confirmation was accidentally taken out of its proper order in the Sacraments of Initiation. After I explained what happened, most of those in the group saw the wisdom of the proper order of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
I summed up the current situation by saying, “It’s a mess, but we have to deal with it as it is. It’s not going to improve in the near future.” My words seemed to resonate with those parents’ experience of raising teenagers: it’s a little disorganized and challenging, but worth dealing with because of their love for their children. Confirmation, at the present time, is a mess, but a necessary part of Baptism; it’s worth dealing with the mess.
Despite the confusion that is created today by having the Sacraments of Initiation out of their proper order, the Sacraments continue to speak to us with a clear voice about their meaning. Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are the rituals that made us Catholic; the final Sacrament of Initiation, Eucharist, is the one that is repeated. We repeat the final Sacrament of Initiation because our faith and our Catholicity are always incomplete quantities. We need this repeatable ritual in order to keep our faith strong and growing.
Faith exhibits many of the characteristics of the other significant relationships in our lives. For example, is it not a fixed quantity; it is always changing. Sometimes faith grows; sometimes it stagnates. At other times, it can weaken due to the challenges we face in life. A healthy faith is not one that never falters; rather, a healthy faith is one that can be judged to have grown stronger over a period of years.
Even when our relationship with God has enjoyed a long period of uninterrupted stability we should avoid the trap of growing complacent. There should never be a time at which we are satisfied with the faith we have. It is necessary for faith to be incomplete; imperfection is in its nature, and we should never lose sight of that. To do so, is to be satisfied with too little, and to run the risk of focusing on ourselves rather than on God.
In the Gospel reading, some of Jesus’ listeners were confused by his words. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) They could not understand him, and asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)
Perhaps we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss the question or condemn those who asked it. The people in the crowd misunderstood Jesus completely, but that was not unusual. His closest friends often misunderstood his words. Rather than condemn misunderstanding as a liability, perhaps we should be willing to embrace it. In the Gospels, misunderstanding often became a path to a real, but necessarily incomplete, faith in Jesus. Perhaps we should see the weakness of our faith as an invitation to pursue God’s will more vigorously.
Jesus said that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood we will live forever. The word “forever” might be a little misleading; it doesn’t denote a static state. The operative words here are “to live.” “To live” implies a certain degree of open-endedness, a measure of incompleteness. We will always rely on God for eternal life; we cannot give eternity to ourselves. Even in eternity there will be an incompleteness to our relationship with God, because our experience of eternity will always depend on God’s otherness.
At the beginning of a person’s faith journey, and at those times when faith is challenged, it is easy to question whether the Lord is truly present. Jesus’ promise that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56), might not make a lot of sense at those times when one feels distant from God. It is for these kinds of reasons that we receive Eucharist on a regular, repeated basis. Eucharist is food for our journey of faith and strength for our minds and hearts.
Today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is a feast of the incompleteness of our faith. Today we celebrate our need for spiritual nourishment and the Lord’s provident care. When we approach the Altar today, and receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, we give witness to our faith in all its imperfections. Our reliance on God for deeper trust, greater holiness and firmer understanding is an authentic witness to Jesus the Redeemer.
The shallow narcissism of popular culture would have us believe that it is possible to find a fully satisfying spirituality and religious practice for ourselves. This idea is very tempting, but ultimately, it is a delusion. The only religious experience that can be fully satisfying for human nature is to know and love God; to do so, however, is a project that lasts for an entire lifetime, and continues for an eternity. An authentic faith in the real God will always be somewhat imperfect, and not entirely satisfying. To experience an insatiable desire for a deeper knowledge of God is to know and love the One, True God; we should never be deluded into being satisfied with less.