Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

13 February 2014

Promises, Promises Can Just Transform Your Life

In an internet feature called "Throwback Thursday," I decided to post a paper that the former secretary of my home parish sent to my Mom a few years ago. She must have been going through some old records when she found this chestnut:

This was a really good find, both for the nerdy picture (dig the size of those spectacles!) and for the personal historical value.

For whatever reason my father and Confirmation sponsor (my paternal grandfather, William J. Zelonis, affectionately known by his coworkers as "Bill Zee" and his grands as "Grump") never signed it. 

Dad really stayed in the proverbial back seat with characteristically quiet support. His vocational advice was very simple: "You got a good head on your shoulders. You don't have to bust your ___ like I did." "Just as long as you don't do anything immoral." Works for me.

People's comments have been understandably favorable. One person, who is deeply involved in promoting the Church's missionary activity, called it a "timely Valentine to the Holy Spirit." My gears started grinding.

First, it reminded me of this martyrous meme:
The Holy Spirit, given initially at Baptism and fully in Confirmation, galvanizes the human spirit to live the primary vocation to holiness. Our cooperation with that Gift entails the promises I made in that declaration: prayer, kindness, seeking intimacy with God, seeking ways to witness to Christ before others.

I have at times been far from faithful to those promises. I dare not claim my vocation to the priesthood as proof of anything--except, perhaps, God's "proof of purchase." While I may piously refer to myself as His slave, and identify myself in terms of the Lord's commitment to me and mine to Him (cf. Song 6:3), I remain dreadfully free to set it aside in favor of lesser loves.

So for couples who identify themselves with each other: they cannot rest on the laurels of their identification. They must engage in the daily sacrificial proofs of love. For the bishop Saint Valentine, love for Christ eventually meant the gift of his life. "No one takes my life away from me; I lay it down freely" (Jn 10:18).

This total gift of self, this further specification of the baptismal call to sanctity, finds expression in marriage, vowed religious life, ordination, or consecrated virginity. People may apply themselves to certain worthy occupations in a way that resembles that total gift, which is valid as far as it goes; but one's vocation as such pertains to the harnessing of love's energies and the itemized investment of our spiritual and temporal resources. This calling--a mystical mixture of God's ideas and ours, God's initiative and our response--it can hurt, it can fulfill.

I was confirmed in 1988 by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Welsh. Six years later he would accept me as a seminarian for the Diocese of Allentown. He would live to see me ordained a priest, he would preside in choir at my father's funeral, and I would concelebrate his funeral Mass.

1988 was a banner year in my life, aside from my Confirmation. Like many public schoolers who attended CCD/PREP I couldn't wait to stop going to classes. This was strange, because I enjoyed learning about my Catholic faith. Perhaps it was the extra allotment of time on a Wednesday night.

To solve that (not really; it was a discrete decision) I enrolled in the local Catholic school. That fact, as I have written in previous posts, really opened me to love of my religion and to an interest in spirituality and service. Now I had religion classes every day. Now I could play the organ for school Masses and serve funerals. 

In eighth grade I became a "mission rep": the school's student representative to the diocesan Holy Childhood Association, now called the Missionary Childhood Association. While I never considered devoting my life to the service of the poor in other countries, I appreciate how they told us we were all missionaries by virtue of our baptism.

I retain a number of friends from that time in my life. One of them just found that Valentine martyr meme. We can still talk honestly and charitably about religious, spiritual, and cultural matters. I have assisted, and even officiated, at the weddings of some.

It is rather consoling to know that the promises made at Confirmation, at an admittedly insane point in the life of most recipients, can be increasingly activated over the years, perhaps to blossom in a life acutely conscious of the reality and relevance of God.

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