On Sunday, March 9, I celebrated the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It was a joyous celebration for all of us and most especially for the catechumens who will receive the Sacraments of Initiation and the candidates who will be received into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. During Lent, please join me in praying for our catechumens and candidates.
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 our Diocese. What a joyous occasion for you, our elect, for your family and friends who are with you today and for our entire diocesan family.
As you know this is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is the season in which we prepare to celebrate Easter, the great feast of our salvation. During this time, the catechumens, those desiring to be baptized, confirmed and to receive First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, and candidates, those baptized but desiring to be fully incorporated into the Church with the reception of Confirmation and First Eucharist at the vigil, begin their intense preparation for the reception of these sacraments.
We are gathered today for the Rite of Election. The catechumens will publicly express their desire for baptism to me and their names will be recorded in a book. They become the “the elect.” Generally, we use the term “election” to refer to voting for a civil office. However, the term is used with a significantly different meaning today. The word “election” as we use it in the Rite of Election is a literal translation of the Latin word for “chosen.”
So many beautiful scripture passages refer to God’s call and choice of His people and individuals. The Book of Deuteronomy speaks about God’s choice of Israel. “You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God; he has chosen you to be a people peculiarly his own. . . . He set his heart on you and chose you” (Dt. 7:6-7). The prophet Isaiah says, “I have called you by name” (Is 45:4). Paul reminds the Ephesians, “God chose us in him before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love” (Eph 1:4). The Gospel of John notes God’s initiative, “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).
Dear catechumens, God has chosen you to share in His life and the life of His Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Dear candidates who have been baptized, God has chosen you to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church through Confirmation and First Eucharist. For this we are grateful and with you we rejoice.
Of course, God’s choice requires a response. His call waits for your answer, for your “yes.” Faith requires our full commitment. By faith we commit our whole self freely to God who in His goodness and wisdom chose to reveal Himself (Cf. Dei Verbum, #1, #5). God reveals Himself most fully in Christ so that we can share in the divine life. Faith is the gift of ourselves, mind and heart, to the God who has given Himself to us.
Certainly you have learned about your faith. But hopefully, too, you have come to know and experience that faith is not speculative, abstract knowledge. It is not a theory. Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with a person…. Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus wherein we experience His closeness, friendship and love. (Cf. Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, #1 and General Audience, October 21, 2009).
You have accepted the Lord’s invitation to learn about Him, to encounter Him and to follow Him. You have been led to the community of faith and soon you will live in the warm embrace of the Church. Know that the Church is our Mother and she will never abandon us.
In commenting on the Church as Mother, Pope Francis tells us that, through tenderness and love, the Church shows us the correct path to follow; accompanies us on our journey with understanding, leading us back to the right path when we stray; journeys with us in mercy and understanding, offering us forgiveness, and never grows tired of interceding for us, no matter our failings. (Pope Francis, General Audience, September 18, 2013). May you know the Church as your Mother and love her deeply.
Proclaiming the Gospel is the mission of the Church. In virtue of baptism, all the members of the Church are missionary disciples. All the baptized are agents of evangelization. As you enter the Church you assume this responsibility. “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization….Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, # 120). Know your faith. Live your faith. Share your faith.
God revealed His immense love in the crucified and risen Christ. During Lent let us ponder with joy and gratitude this immense love revealed in the paschal mystery. Dear catechumens and candidates, may this holy Rite of Election lead you to joyfully embrace the faith. May you always look upon the Church as your mother. May your love for her be deep and sincere.
We support you with prayer and our faith accompanies you in these final days before the Easter Vigil. I pray that our Blessed Mother, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, our patroness, accompany you on this journey of faith, keep you in her maternal care and teach you how to listen to her Son as she did until that day when she will usher you into her Son’s presence.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.