High school can be a tumultuous time for many young people. But spending those years in a loving and nurturing environment such as St. Joseph’s, rooted in the Gospel and carrying a mission of teaching and living active inclusive love, unity and reconciliation, can allow students to journey through the struggles and joys they face with a growing faith and peace of heart. For students at SJHS, their high school years often involve just such a personal spiritual journey, while many also bring to our school community a deep faith life from their families and parishes, enriching the lives of their peers through their vibrant witness to the power of the Gospel.
Marilyn Pauta, a sophomore, grew up in a Catholic household, and continues to cherish this upbringing. With her family, she has always been actively involved in her parish community, where she finds many other Ecuadorian American families like her own. When Marilyn was a child, she and her siblings would always pray with their mother after school, and she would teach them that God is always with them, through all suffering. In everything they experienced in their lives, her mom would help Marilyn and her siblings to discover God’s loving presence.
After spending some time back in Ecuador during middle school, Marilyn made the decision to return to the US with her father and brother, while her mom stayed behind for a medical procedure. She knew she would not see her mom and younger siblings much for the next few years, and – after being used to a noisy and boisterous house full of children – she had a difficult time getting used to the quiet home she returned to each day. But, Marilyn was not alone. Missing the rest of her family brought her to enter more deeply into her parish community, spending time there with her father and brother, and asking God to accompany her during this time.
While in Ecuador, Marilyn had not been able to prepare for the sacrament of Confirmation. When she came to SJHS, she began to ask about the possibility of being prepared for the sacrament at school. She spoke with Sister Pat Lucas, and soon enough Sister Pat lead a preparation class for Marilyn and group of other students who had missed sacraments for various reasons.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.”
“Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”
In the sacrament of Confirmation, the believer is sealed in her or his Christian faith through the act of anointing with holy chrism oil. The holy oil carries many layers of significance; in addition to being a sign of abundance that heals, cleanses, strengthens and adorns, the anointing is taken from an ancient Hebrew practice by which priests were anointed and set apart for service to the Lord. While the original practice was reserved for priesthood (still used today in the rite of Ordination), in the early Church after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and Mary at Pentecost, the anointing with oil in the sacrament of Confirmation became a sign that all Christians participated in to confirm their faith and enter fully into the life of the Spirit.
After the months of preparation, Marilyn was ready for the big day. Two weeks before, she asked her dad to take the day off of work so that he could attend. This request led to a long conversation between the two of them in which she asked him about his own experience of faith, and why he was such a prayerful and religious person. He told her, “God is like the universe – never-ending, mysterious, beautiful, full of so many new things to discover. We will always be able to open ourselves more to God to go deeper into our relationship with him.” He told her that he experienced great healing through his faith when his mother died, because “the Church is a hospital for all broken souls.”
“This is the mission of the Church: the Church heals, it cures. Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many, many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all, God is the Father, God is affectionate, God always waits for us.”
When the day came, it happened that Marilyn’s mom had come for a visit, not knowing that she was arriving just in time to see her daughter confirmed in the faith that meant so much to their family. For Marilyn, her mom’s presence on that day was a special blessing, a reminder that in all her times of difficulty, she had never been alone. “Wherever I go, I always feel God’s blessing,” Marilyn says.
This year in Mr. Sennet’s religion class, this message has been reinforced by their study of the book of Genesis, and the prophecy of Jesus’s coming after Adam and Eve sinned. Mr. Sennet explained to Marilyn’s class that, although we are always free to turn away from God, he never turns away from us. Sharing stories from his own family, he explained that our families should be a special place where we learn of God’s love for us through the companionship of our parents and siblings, and that we should work to help our families become clearer witnesses of God’s love and affection through our relationships with our family members.
Most importantly, however, he shared that even when our families fail us in some way, and we struggle to rely on and care for one another, we can always rely on God to remain with us through everything. “Remember all the memories you have of his presence in your life” – these words of Marilyn’s dad before her confirmation ring true in her religion classes with Mr. Sennet at St. Joseph’s.