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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2023

[Mary, Star of the Sea Church, Honolulu (Confirmation & First Holy Communion); Holy Family Church, Honolulu (Confirmation & First Holy Communion)]

This is a very exciting day for our brothers and sisters who are being confirmed and making their First Holy Communion today!  It is a day they will remember for a long time.  But some people see these sacraments not as the sacraments of initiation that they are, but as sacraments of termination.  They might say, “I’ve received my sacraments, so there is no need to go to faith formation classes or even to Mass any more.”  Pope Francis once referred to the sacrament of Confirmation as the sacrament of “goodbye” for this reason, and even some of our pastors think we should move Confirmation back to the teen years so that there is a carrot that will bring people back, at least for a while.  If any of these is our attitude, then we have missed the point of what is happening here.

Jesus speaks of himself as the gate of the sheepfold but says there are other ways to get through the gate, but that is only for thieves and robbers.  Sometimes we think that being good Christians is knowing all the doctrines of our faith, or at least grasping the basics.  So we go through the gate of study of our faith, and this leads us to boredom.  Or sometimes we think the gate is being nice and doing good things for others.  If we enter through that gate, we will probably become cynical when we find that not everyone is as nice to us.  Or we become self-centered, doing good things to bring attention to ourselves rather than to give glory to God.  Sometimes we may think the best way to go through the gate is just to do our duties and go to Mass, whether or not we understand it fully.  If we go through that gate, the Mass will probably become routine or even boring, and eventually we will stop coming.  Sometimes we go through the gate of following the moral law, observing all the “Thou shalts” and avoiding all the “Thou shalt nots.”  If we enter through that gate, we will find life too burdensome and a drudgery.

Jesus, however, says that he himself is the gate, and we need to pay careful attention to this!  Because when you are confirmed today, you are not just going through a ceremony.  God the Holy Spirit, who gives us life and breath, is reaching out to touch, mark, and seal you with his love.  This is not just a ritual but a personal encounter with God himself, so that forever he can burn with his love in your heart and in your life.  When you receive your First Communion, you may be distracted by when to say “Amen,” or how to hold your hands, or how you will look in your photos.  But what is really happening here is that Jesus himself is present to you and showing you that he loves you enough to live inside of you, to become a part of your own body and soul.  This is not just a ceremony or a ritual, but an intimate encounter with the Good Shepherd, who will always lead you in the way that will bring you life.  If you remember that this is God’s way of kissing and hugging and holding you, you will enter the sheepfold through Jesus and find life in abundance.

If you realize what a wonderful gift you are receiving today, that it is being with a living person who loves you more than you can imagine, your whole attitude will change.  You may go to a Mass that is a little boring, where the music is tedious and the preacher drones on, but you will still go, because you will realize that this is still an intimate encounter with Jesus that you cannot experience anywhere else.  If you focus on Jesus and go through that gate, you will want to learn more about your faith every day of your lives and will never tire of learning more about Jesus and his beloved Bride, the Church, and all we continue to do in the world.  If you go through the gate that is Jesus, you will want to do good works and to serve in ways you never thought possible, but you will not seek any glory for yourself in doing so, but will be filled with thanks that Jesus empowers you to serve as he serves.  All of those things that we so often think are the gates of our faith – duty, good works, being kind – we will do not because they are gates, but because anyone who goes through the gate of Jesus himself will want to do nothing less.

We are all excited for you today, because today you are going to enter the sheepfold through the gate that is Jesus himself, living and active by sending his Holy Spirit; living and active by feeding you with his very own Body and Blood, so that you can be one with him.  Never forget that coming to Mass is all about growing in love, which Jesus, our Good Shepherd, shows us very clearly.  If you truly believe that, you will never leave him, and you will know that he longs to lead you through the gates of his own home in heaven.