December 19, 2023 // Bishop

Bishop Rhoades Confirms 13 at St. Anthony de Padua

On Saturday, December 9, Bishop Rhoades spent the 19th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop administering the Sacrament of Confirmation on 13 young candidates at St. Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend – the final confirmation Mass of the year for the bishop.

While it is unusual to have a confirmation Mass during the Advent season (the diocese’s confirmations typically happen in the fall), Bishop Rhoades’ role in the recent Synod of Bishops necessitated pushing some confirmations back in the calendar year. The confirmations at St. Anthony de Padua just happened to coincide with Bishop Rhoades’ special anniversary.

Bishop Rhoades celebrated the Mass on the vigil of the Second Sunday of Advent, which provided the readings and prayers. He dwelt on Advent themes in his homily, building his reflections around Isaiah 40:3: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

“When we think about our lives, sometimes we get off the road,” Bishop Rhoades said to the 13 young parishioners being confirmed, adding that the Christian’s work is to make straight the highway for God in our lives. He said this was important especially for these times, which he called the “middle times” – Jesus’ First Coming has already happened, but the world is still waiting for his Second Coming. Just like the Israelites in the time of the prophet Isaiah, Bishop Rhoades said, we are in exile.

Dwelling more specifically on modern times, Bishop Rhoades mentioned the problems of anxiety and depression that plague many. “God wants to give us His peace and His joy,” Bishop Rhoades said, adding later, “Whenever we are filled with anxiety, we need to come to the Lord.”

Regarding the role of confirmation in their lives, Bishop Rhoades told the confirmandi, “You’ve already received the Holy Spirit at baptism. … God loves us so much He gives us even greater strength in the Sacrament of Confirmation.”

Bishop Rhoades then mentioned the sweet-smelling chrism oil used at confirmation, which is a blend of olive oil and fragrant balsam. Bishop Rhoades recalled St. Paul’s words, “You are to be the fragrance of Christ in the world,” he quoted.

“You’re called to be saints,” Bishop Rhoades added. “That’s why I’m confirming you.”

Fernando Garcia, in his first year as Director of Faith Formation at St. Anthony de Padua Parish, has been working with the confirmation class since August. He told Today’s Catholic that the most important challenge of confirmation preparation is “learning to see and hear God in our daily lives.”

“I think it is really exciting to work with young people as they begin to question and build a deeper picture of who they are,” Garcia said of his ministry. “One of the graces of confirmation is to be rooted more deeply in our identity as beloved sons and daughters of God, and so I hope that confirmation preparation encourages them to see this reality as the most fundamental aspect of who they are.”

Photos by Kasia Balsbaugh
Bishop Rhoades confirms 13 students at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church in South Bend on Saturday, December 9.

Assisting Bishop Rhoades with the Mass were Father Arthur Ssembajja, Pastor of St. Anthony de Padua, Father John Sollee, Deacon Mike Plenzler, and two visiting priests from Uganda. They and the congregation congratulated Bishop Rhoades after Mass on his anniversary.

Pope St. John Paul II named then-Father Rhoades a bishop in October of 2004, when he was Rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. This was one of the last episcopal appointments John Paul II made before his death. Bishop Rhoades said this was particularly special because he had admired John Paul II for a long time, calling him “one of my heroes.”

After being appointed bishop, then-Father Rhoades had two months to choose a formal ordination date. Because of his special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe (during the confirmation Mass at St. Anthony, his crozier bore her image), he requested her feast day, December 12. Unfortunately, that day was unavailable, so he next requested December 9, the feast day of St. Juan Diego. On that date in 2004, he was ordained Bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He became Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend five years later and has served the diocese ever since.

After telling his story, Bishop Rhoades ended the Mass with words of encouragement for the eighth graders whom he had just sealed with the Holy Spirit.

“Young newly confirmed Catholics, you give me a lot of hope,” Bishop Rhoades said.

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