I read the first reading of today’s readings for Pentecost at my Confirmation. I loved the auditory “image” of a sound like a strong driving wind – something swirling into the room that had the power to embolden, to change life and people for the better.
Through the peculiarities of Archdiocesan scheduling, my parish confirmed its teens during the late fall of their junior year. I remember thinking at the time that for the next year and a half I would be having a lot of experiences that people told me would be important forever: proms and awards and graduations and the rest of the rituals we associate with the end of adolescence. I knew, though I think I was socially astute enough not to tell anyone, that my Confirmation was the only one of these that would remain truly important to me.
(Years later a colleague would ask me “Do you think the most important event in your life has already happened to you?” and I replied without missing a beat “Yes. My baptism.” He laughed and shook his head and told me that answer was hard to top.
My obsession with the sacraments would be precious if I weren’t so down-to-earth, yes?)
Bishop Rozazza of Hartford presided. He asked if I took Philomena as my confirmation name because it was my grandmother’s name. (It was my grandmothers name, but I took it also because I wanted to be a Fi Lumena – a friend of the light). He wanted to know if she’d lived in Hartford – maybe he knew her? – but no, my grandmother, christened Philomena but turned by life, xenophobia, marriage and cosmic alliterative humor into Phyllis Felice, had never lived in Hartford.
Bishop Rozazza also introduced me to my favorite quip about my Italian and Irish heritage: Gaelic and Garlic.
I remember what I wore, one of my typical small-town slightly-overweight unfashionable attempts at looking nice. It didn’t matter. Speaking of things that didn’t matter, my confirmation happened to occur during the three-week period of my first thirty years when I had someone I called a boyfriend. I sat close to him on the couch with some other friends during the afterparty.
(A few weeks later he called while I was at the piano. I realized I would rather go back to my beginner’s sonata that make our strained attempts at small talk. I was just going along with the whole dating thing because it seemed like something teenagers were supposed to do. I stopped calling him. It would be another 15 years before I made it past a third date.)
A dear aunt was my sponsor. My mother gave me a statue of Our Lady of Grace, claiming she thought I could use a little grace (I was a prickly, moody teenager), and pointing out that it wouldn’t hurt to believe that the Blessed Virgin had a wacky eye like my statue did.
I’m sure I got a little money, which I probably should have spent on clothes that fit, but I wouldn’t get to that until my sophomore year of college.
When I looked at the readings today I despaired: so many choices. A little more last supper discourse, perhaps? Or Jesus’ gift of peace? A few Pauline choices in the second reading as well. How was I going to choose the snippets that spoke to the most readers?
Maybe that’s a gift of Scripture, of the lectionary, and of God. There are too many passages about God’s promise of ongoing interaction with the world to limit ourselves to just a few. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and stayed with us, not as a dormant historical relic but as the wind and fire that we can still recognize if we look for it.
That may have been what my 15-year-old self know, the kernel of wisdom that the Holy Spirit granted me when She came to me in a particular way on a Saturday afternoon in the fall all those years ago: that the Spirit wasn’t going anywhere. I would move out of my parents’ house and the Bishop would retire and I’d break up with guys and move to a big city and learn how to dress and blow out my hair and pluck my eyebrows and some times I would look back on the person I used to be and think “There is no possible way that was me.”
The thread that holds it all together has been the wind blowing through my life and the fire kindled within me. For all that I’ve changed and the world has changed, the Spirit has stayed the same, turning herself to offer me the facets I’ve needed at the time: consolation, excitement, indignation, or joy.
Thank God, literally, for the gift of the Holy Spirit. A blessed Pentecost to you all.