Pope Francis Wednesday said that the sacrament of Confirmation is a gift meant to be shared with other people, both inside and outside of the Church, which he stressed is not only the hierarchy, but is made up of all baptized faithful.
In his June 6 general audience speech, the pope said the sacrament of Confirmation unites candidates more closely to the Church, and gives them a stronger identity as “a living member of the mystical body of Christ.”
“The mission of the Church in the world proceeds through the contribution of those who are a part of it,” he said, noting in off-the-cuff comments that when it comes to how the Church is understood, “some think that there are only bishops, the bosses, and then there are the workers.”
“No, the Church is all of us, everyone, each person has their role in the Church, but we are all the Church,” he said, adding that “we must think of the Church as a living organism, composed of people who we know and with whom we walk, and not as an abstract and distant reality.”
“The Church is us who walk, us who are here in the square. It's everyone,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for his weekly audience address, which is currently dedicated to a series of catechesis on the sacrament of Confirmation.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, he said, helps candidates mature in the faith and allows them to in turn become a gift for others.
“It is precisely the Holy Spirit who de-centers us from our 'I' in order to open ourselves to the 'we' of the Christian community, as well as to the society in which we live,” he said, adding that the soul is not a “warehouse,” and that as Christians, “we are not the center, we are an instrument to give to others.”
Confirmation is linked to the universal Church and actively involves candidates in the life of the local Churches where they come from, he said, and since the bishop is the head of the local Church, this is why he is the ordinary minister of the sacrament.
This incorporation of the candidate into the Church, he said, is signified by the sign of the peace which takes place at the end of the rite of Confirmation, when the bishop says “peace be with you.”
When a candidate receives this sign of peace from the bishop, it commits them to working for greater communion “inside and outside of the Church, with enthusiasm and without being paralyzed by resistance.”
“To receive peace means committing to work toward improving harmony in the parish, encouraging understanding with others, including, rather than discarding or marginalizing.” It also means being able to recognize and appreciate differences, because “the Holy Spirit is creative and not repetitive. His gifts arouse a symphony and not monotony!”
Pope Francis then challenged the crowd to think of their own parish community and how they act after giving and receiving the sign of peace during Mass.
While the sign of peace is symbolic of the harmony and charity that ought to guide members of the Church, the pope noted that many times when people leave Mass “we start to gossip. And gossip is war against others.”
“If we have received peace, we must give it to others,” he said, stressing that “gossip is not a work of the Holy Spirit...please don't gossip.”
Francis closed his address reiterating that Confirmation is a gift meant not only for the recipient, but also for the spiritual good of others.
Only by “opening ourselves and going out of ourselves to encounter our brothers can we truly grow and not just fool ourselves,” he said, adding that when Catholics receive the Holy Spirit, “it must in fact be given so that it bears fruit and is not buried because of our selfish fears.”
Quoting his exhortation on holiness Gaudete et Exsultate, the pope said Catholics need to be prompted by the Holy Spirit, “lest we be paralyzed by fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping within safe bounds.”
“Let us remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy,” he said, and urged Confirmation candidates not to “cage the Holy Spirit” by resisting his inspiration or suffocating “the burning fire of charity which consumes his life for God and for others.”
“May the Holy Spirit grant each of us the apostolic courage of communicating the Gospel, with words and works, to all those we meet on our path.”