Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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April 25, 2021
[Sacred Heart Church, Punahou; Mary, Star of the Sea Church, Waialae-Kahala (Confirmation & First Communion)]
Children often ask me why I carry this staff. I carry it because I am the chief pastor of this local church that is called a diocese, and “pastor” means “shepherd.” This is a shepherd’s staff, and very often you will see pictures of shepherds with staffs. They are very handy tools, because they can do many things. The shepherd often has to walk over rocky ground, and the staff can give him stability. Sometimes he may have to stand watch for a long time, and his legs can tire, so the staff can be like an extra leg to hold him up. If he is way ahead of a flock of sheep, maybe he could raise his staff so that those in the back can see that they are still following the shepherd. The staff could be used as a weapon to swing at wolves or other predators. It could be used as a prod to move the sheep along when they are content to stay right where they are, but the shepherd knows there is better pasture somewhere else. The staff has a hook, so that the shepherd can snag the wayward sheep and bring it back into the flock.
So the bishop uses a staff, not because he is going to tend real sheep, but to remind us that he represents Jesus himself, who is the Good Shepherd, and that Jesus wants to guide all his beloved sheep, which is all of us. Jesus knows his sheep and loves them as the children of God. He wants to take us to places where we can be nourished and grow. He wants to prevent us from going to places that are too dangerous for us. He wants us to trust him so that we will never be content with the little goodness we have, but so that he can take us where we can be even better – though sometimes that means we have to travel a very rough road to get there.
Children, your parents are also like shepherds to you. They protect you from harm. They lead you to better pastures by insisting you do your homework and your chores, even when you would like to just be contented playing video games or watching TV. They prod you along when you become a little lazy. They bring you close to them when they know you just need some loving. They provide food and shelter for you and care for you in a thousand different ways as they lead you along life’s journey. Sometimes they can stumble or feel tired, and maybe they, too, need the Good Shepherd to support them with his staff, so that they can be good shepherds to you.
Today you are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation, because while you are still sheep who need to be guided, you are also shepherds with the mission to guide others to taste and see how good the Lord is. There will never be a time in your life – no matter how old you are -- when you are not a sheep, needing to be guided along to become better and to grow in the feast of God’s love. But from now on, you are also to be a shepherd, guiding others so that they can grow in God’s love.
Now, you will not carry a staff, but remember, the staff is only a symbol. But with the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to do things you could not possibly do on your own. You will be able to fight off enemies that want to kill your souls by tempting you to do wrong and to sin, because the Holy Spirit will give you the wisdom and courage to do that. You will be able to rescue others from doing stupid and self-destructive things by reigning them in and showing them how happy you can be when you are following God’s commandments. You can prod people along when they become discouraged about their studies or when they are having trouble making friends, because this gift of the Spirit lives in you and can be, in a very real way, the staff you use to guide others. You may even be the ones to prod or pull in your own parents who have strayed away from Jesus and let them know how important it is to you to go to Mass and worship God.
Not only will you receive the sacrament of Confirmation, this anointing with the Holy Spirit, but the Good Shepherd will open up for you today the best pasture in which you will ever feed, and the finest food you will ever eat, which is his own sacred Body and Blood, which you will receive for the first time today in Holy Communion. The Good Shepherd -- whose sheep include second-graders and bishops, children and parents, students and teachers -- will feed you with himself, so that, like him, you, too can give yourselves fully to others in God’s love. Jesus is always with you, and he wants you to always come and feed on him as a sheep of his beloved flock, so that you, too, can be shepherds to give his loving care to all you meet.