A. What a joy to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with you and for you this afternoon. Present in this Basilica, the oldest Cathedral in the United States, is a diverse group of people, ranging from ages 15 to 78. But no matter how young or how old you are, what happens to you today is the same: by the prayer of the Church, the laying on of my hands, and the anointing with chrism, you will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit; the seven gifts of the Spirit first received in Baptism will be deepened in you; and you will become fully members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Today, you take an important step in your life of faith, a step that concretizes your commitment to living according to God’s will, profoundly influenced by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
B. In taking this step, you are following saints who committed themselves to God and to living according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I’d like to tell you about some saints who lived right here in Baltimore; saints who traveled the same streets that we do. Their lives were very different, one from another, but they had this common: Once they found God, there was no turning back. Their lives were forever changed! Who were these saints? And how did they follow Christ in the Spirit?
II. The Saints
A. First is St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, born in New York City in 1774 to a prominent Episcopalian family. In 1794, at the age of 19, Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman with whom she had five children. William died of tuberculosis in 1803, leaving Elizabeth a young widow. After discovering Catholicism in Italy, Elizabeth returned to the United States and entered the Catholic Church in 1805 in New York. She converted because she was convinced that Jesus was present in the Eucharist. Her family and friends weren’t happy about her decision to become Catholic; it wasn’t easy for her and for her family; she lost friends & lacked resources. After some difficult years, she moved in 1809 to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, the first community for religious women established in the United States. She also began St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, planting the seeds of Catholic education in the United States. Mother Seton was canonized on Sunday, September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI and was the first native-born American citizen to be given the title “saint”. Her remains are enshrined in Emmitsburg in the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
B. A second Baltimore saint is St. John Neumann; he was born in 1811 in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. He completed his seminary studies in theology but there were too many priests in his homeland, so his bishop decided not ordain more priests for a while (a problem I’d like to have!). He traveled to the United States and was ordained a few weeks later in New York City. After several years ministering in parishes in New York, St. John Neumann decided to enter the Redemptorist Order in 1840 and finally made his final vows here in Baltimore in 1842. He traveled far and wide preaching the Gospel; he seemed to be everywhere! From 1849-1851 he served as pastor of St. Augustine church in Elkridge before being transferred to St. Alphonsus church, just two blocks away from here, to serve as pastor from 1851-1852. In 1852 St. John Neumann was named the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and was consecrated in St. Alphonsus church. He did not want to take on the responsibilities of the office of bishop, seeing himself as too simple and not talented enough. However, while bishop of Philadelphia, he built on average one parish per month and started the first diocesan school system. St. John died in 1860 at the young age of 48.
C. A third person is not yet a saint, but we pray that one day she will be; her name is Mother Mary Lange. We do not know much about the early years of her life, except that she was born around 1794 in Haiti and eventually made her way to Cuba. In the early 1800s Mother Lange left Cuba and settled in the U.S. In 1813, she moved to Baltimore where a large community of French speaking Catholics from Haiti was established. It did not take Mother Lange long to recognize that the children of her fellow immigrants needed an education. There was as yet no free public education for African American children in Maryland, not until 1868. She responded to that need by opening a school in her home in the Fells Point area of the city for the children. Father James Joubert, PSS, encouraged by Archbishop James Whitfield of Baltimore, invited Mother Lange to found a religious congregation for the education of African American girls. It was the first congregation of African American women religious in the history of the Catholic Church. On July 2, 1829 Mother Lange and three other women professed their vows and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The Oblate Sisters educated youth and provided a home for orphans. She died on February 3, 1882 at Saint Frances Convent in Baltimore and her cause for sainthood is underway.
III. The Effects of the Holy Spirit in Our Lives
A. These three people I just spoke about placed God in the center of their lives, and doing so, were able to influence the lives of countless people. They didn’t always follow an easy path. We know there will always be challenges and trials for us. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton faced anger and disappointment from those closest to her in her life. St. John Neumann didn’t think he had the intelligence or talent to be a bishop. Mother Mary Lange was a poor, black woman facing the unique challenges that came with that. However, they all relied on the Holy Spirit to give them strength to be disciples of the Lord in spite of any obstacles they faced from the world.
B. All teach us what is most important in life. Yes, we all want to succeed in our education and in our careers but the most important thing in life is becoming a saint. At the end of our lives, nothing else will matter. If there is anything I want you to remember from your Confirmation it is this: the Holy Spirit is coming into your hearts this afternoon hoping to make each one of you a true follower of Jesus – a person who truly lives and acts and thinks as Jesus, a person who is truly a part of Jesus’ Church. The Holy Spirit is coming into your hearts today to make you saints. It won’t be any easier for you than it was for our Baltimore saints. But do not be afraid; the Holy Spirit will help you overcome the troubles, trials, and temptations in your lives.
C. We live in a world that can so easily pull us away from the truth and the good. There are many storms in life, and these storms can sweep us away. However, Christians who rely on the Holy Spirit swim against the current. We are in the same river with everyone else, but instead of just going along with everyone else, our lives point to God. We swim upstream, not downstream. The Holy Spirit helps us swim against the current. Like those three people I spoke about, God has chosen you for great things and He has given each of you our particular vocation in life. My prayer for you is that, by the help of the Holy Spirit, you will always be those men and women the world and the Church really need.
May God bless you and keep you always in His love.