Last evening as a candidate I had just confirmed was leaving and another was approaching me, Father Tim Horan, who was holding the oil of Chrism, called my attention to a little girl sitting very close to us. This beautiful child, clad in her first Communion dress, was crying her eyes out.
When we had finished confirming, I walked over and asked her if she was all right. She came from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin and I thought that at her tender age being in a place so new to her at such an important moment in her life might have overwhelmed her. In response to my question the gentleman who was her sponsor said, "Don’t worry; she’s fine. It’s just that her grandmother died recently and she misses her very much tonight."
I shared that story with the students at Notre Dame High School in Elmira this morning during the Eucharistic liturgy and the May crowning of the Blessed Mother. The theme for the celebration honored Mary’s purity of heart. I told the students that the innocence, simplicity, strength and honesty of the little one helped me to understand a little better Mary’s purity of heart. I tried to remind them that we are all blessed with people in our lives whose goodness, integrity and spirit of self-giving inspire us to the kind of discipleship for which we honor Mary. And I encouraged them to remember and to thank God for those individuals as we prayed together.
Another element of that story stays with me. It is the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter. How they lived it out, what particular form it took or patterns it had I have no way of knowing. But the relationship was clearly of great importance to the little girl. Its rupture caused her great grief.
Celebrating the sacrament of confirmation puts one in touch with such loving intergenerational relationships quite often. Candidates often invite their grandfathers or grandmothers to be their sponsors. I can tell you from long experience that such invitation brings enormous joy to grandparents. And I do believe that when the young candidates extend such an invitation to their grandparents they are expressing a level of affection, respect and gratitude for them for which they may not even have words.
I know that such moments always awaken in me memories of my paternal grandfather whose name I bear. I remember him as gracious, warm and welcoming. In his company I had a special sense of safety and of being loved. Looking back at it all I think that in his own way he helped me to understand a little bit better what it means to speak about God’s faithful and compassionate love for us all. In my adult life I have always tried to treat young people in a way similar to the way my grandfather treated me.
You’ll be happy to know that my young friend was calm and peaceful as she was confirmed and when she received the body and blood of Christ for the first time. When time came for photographs after the ceremony, she was positively beaming. The fruit of her grandmother’s prayers?
Peace to all.