Each year on the First Sunday of Lent we gather in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the Rite of Election (for those not yet baptized) and the Call to Continuing Conversion for Candidates for Eucharist and Confirmation. The Rite of Election recognizes the “election” by God of the catechumens preparing for baptism. It was a privilege to witness the faith of the 87 catechumens and the 170, already baptized who are preparing to complete the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil. They came from 66 parishes in the Diocese.
Following is the homily I preached on that occasion.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ and most especially my dear catechumens and candidates for full reception into the Church.
Welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Syracuse! What a wonderful site, on this First Sunday of Lent, to see our Cathedral filled with men and women of deep faith.
Please know how grateful we are to those committing their lives to the Lord in a new way – our catechumens and candidates – and to those who have accompanied them on the journey of life and now on this journey of faith – your families, your sponsors, your friends, your parish priests and pastoral associates.
Today is a blessed and joyful day in the life of our Church and in our diocese. The Rite of Election brings together those whose final preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation is well underway. I know our catechumens have great joy in their hearts as they await the splendid holy night of the Easter Vigil when they will be baptized in Christ Jesus. Through water and the Holy Spirit, they will be freed from sin and made a new creation. Through the sacrament of Confirmation, they and our candidates will be filled with the fullness of the Spirit and strengthened in a new way to be witnesses to the Gospel. And finally, they will join us at the table of the Lord receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the source of our life and nourishment.
In these days of your final preparation, be assured that you do not walk alone. Many people in addition to your family and friends are supporting you in prayer and assisting you in drawing ever closer to our Lord. I, too, promise you my prayerful support on your journey to Easter.
As your Bishop, I want you to know a little bit about my life of faith and what will, hopefully, keep me strong until that unknown day when God will call me home. As a seminarian I was introduced to the concept, and became ever more consoled by the knowledge, that the Church is our Mother. Certainly, the Church is not a Mother in the sense of our earthly mother, but she maternally nurtures and strengthens us through the sacraments.
It is through the Church that we are reborn in the saving waters of Baptism, receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion and become fully initiated through the conferral of the Holy Spirit at the sacrament of Confirmation. Through the ministry of the priest, our sins are forgiven in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the presence of the Church, young couples pledge their life and their love in the sacrament of Matrimony. For those called, the sacrament of Holy Orders enables some men to be ministers of God’s saving work in a unique way. And, in times of sickness or as death approaches, the consoling graces of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick are given to us.
Truly the Church is our Mother and she will never abandon us. May you come to know her and love her ever more deeply. St. John Chrysostom, one of the early Fathers of the Church, offered this advice: “Do not separate yourself from the Church! No power is as powerful as she. The Church is your hope; the Church is your salvation; the Church is your refuge. She is higher than heaven and bigger than earth. She never ages, and her vitality is eternal” (The Splendor of the Church, Henri de Lubac, p. 127).
The Church’s unique mission is that of making Christ present to all. She is to announce Him, show Him, and give Him, to all. As you enter the Church you assume the duty of witnessing to your faith. For the Gospel is announced not only in words, but also by living. St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints, has this advice: “Preach the Gospel. And if necessary use words.”
Thanks to the Church, the Gospel is proposed to all, both the great and small of the world, from generation to generation. Today, and more especially at the time of your Baptism or full reception into the Church, you enter into the long line of those who cherish their faith and who, at times, may struggle to live it in its full integrity so that one day their glory will shine in the joy of eternity.
The Church remains today “the Mother of love at its most lovely, of healthy fear, of divine knowledge and holy hope. Without her our thought is diffuse and hazy; but she gathers it together into a firm unity” (The Splendor of the Church, p. 168).
My dear friends, I invite you to love the Church always as your Mother. She will bring you through the trials and tribulations you encounter on your journey of faith. She will comfort you as a Mother at difficult moments, and rejoice with you as well in the joys of life. Her only advice echoes the words of Jesus’ Mother spoken on the occasion of His first miracle at Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever He tells you.”
May this Rite of Election see you joyfully embrace the faith. May you always look upon the Church as your Mother. May you be accompanied by Mary and in the quiet of your own thoughts ponder God’s Word as she did and be open to doing whatever He tells you.