Joy in the Wilderness

A Homily for the Confirmation Candidates of St. Lawrence the Martyr and Blessed Trinity Church, Toronto, Ontario, 2023

Deacon Doug McManaman

Some people refer to Confirmation as a rite of passage, as we find in Judaism (the Bar mitzva), or the ancient initiation rituals of the Indigenous peoples. A rite of passage is a passage into adulthood. I don’t know how good that comparison is, but having Confirmation at this age would easily suggest that it is. But the indigenous rite of passage was a very uncomfortable affair. The boy would be snatched from his mother, covered in paint or blood, and sent out into the wilderness for a few months, to learn to survive all on his own. Those who did not, died in the wilderness; those who survived, returned to the tribe and were given a new name; they were no longer children. 

Well, our Confirmation preparation classes were hardly comparable to this. However, although we might not send you out into the wilderness, the realm of chaos, there is a sense in which God does. The society in which we live is in many ways a chaotic wilderness. It is no longer a society congenial to Catholicism, as it was in the 1950s. It’s very difficult to be a Catholic today, especially if you are a teenager. 

There’s a lot of good things going on in the world today, but there are also a lot of things that are so contrary to everything we believe in. This is especially the case in the realm of morality, especially issues of sexuality, marriage, the life issues, such as abortion and euthanasia. It’s very difficult for a young teenager to make it through his or her teenage years while remaining faithful to Christ and his Church. But if you do, you are a hero in many ways. This is something that a priest from Washington D.C said to me years ago. I met him while hitchhiking to Nashville, Tennessee back in 1979, when I was 17 years old. He picked me up on the highway just outside of Columbus, Ohio and took me to Kentucky. He was such a joyful priest that I had made the decision to return to the Church that my family had left when I was in grade 3. It was his joy that really struck me. He was celibate, he couldn’t get married, burdened with all sorts of duties and responsibilities, and here I was young and free, I could get married, and yet he was clearly happier than I was. What was the key to his joy, I’d wondered. Well, I figured it out when he asked me whether I go to Church. I said no, I haven’t seen the inside of a Church since the 3rd grade. “Do your parents go to Church?” I said no, not at all. And much to my chagrin, he was so disappointed. I said why do you have to go to Church. And he yelled out the answer: “To receive the body of Christ! And you know, I hadn’t heard those words since grade 3 when I would attend Mass and hear the priest say: Take this all of you and eat of it, this is my body which will be given up for you. That whole world came back to me at that moment, and I knew that this was the way into that world that I once knew, a world I wanted back into. That was the key to his joy. The body of Christ. The Eucharist. And that is what is going to bring you stability during your teenage years ahead. 

The happiest teenagers and those with the greatest mental health, according to studies in Britain, are those teenagers who practice their religion faithfully. Even my university students that I teach now, the ones who radiate joy and who show the greatest resilience and who write with such depth, are the religious ones who are quoting scripture here and there. Their lives are immersed in the Scriptures. They feed off of the word of God. 

Furthermore, the holier you become, the more interesting your life becomes. I don’t know if I told you this story during one of our classes together, but my best friend is a priest of the Hamilton Diocese, and over the years I’d visit him often, stay the weekend, preach for him to give him a break. And I’m an early riser, so I went down one Saturday morning, about 5 in the morning, and I said my breviary. After the Office of Readings and the Morning prayer, I looked up and saw a large bookshelf at the other end of the living room. I noticed Butler’s four volume lives of the saints, the newest version. So, I went up and decided that I would close my eyes and pick a volume at random, open it and put my finger down, at random. Wherever my finger landed, I would read the life of that saint. So, I got some 3rd century unknown saint. Never heard of her before. It was about 3⁄4 of a page in length. When I finished reading, I felt exhilaration. It really woke me up. I thought, what an interesting life. Then I did it again, picked a volume at random. This time I got a 7th century saint, and I read about his life, completely different from the previous, and again, I could feel it in my body, it was like I drank a glass of orange juice. His life was so different from the one before, but so interesting. 

And this is the lie of Hollywood. We’ve been told over and over again that goodness is boring, and evil is interesting. And it is really the other way around. Evil is terribly boring. It is empty. There’s nothing to it. It’s all the same. But goodness is so diverse, rich, and interesting. 

The more you give your lives over to God, the more interesting your life will become. You will no longer know the meaning of the word boredom. Give yourself to God and He’ll take you on a journey that will be full of surprises. There will be difficulties, struggles, challenges, but He’ll provide you with the graces and the fortitude to overcome all these obstacles, and struggle is what makes life rewarding. A life without struggle is soon intolerably boring. A teaching colleague of mine won the Lotto 649 and he decided to quit, to leave teaching. Another colleague of mine met up with him years later, and he said that he looked lost, without purpose. There’s another Hollywood lie, that labour and struggle bring discontent, while rest, leisure, and an easy life is a happy life. Absolutely false. When you are doing what God is calling you to do, you are happy, joyful. 

So, I encourage you to continue down this road. Be faithful to the graces that you are going to receive today in Confirmation. Don’t waste them. Cooperate with God and let Him lead you to where He wants to take you. 

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