The first two Sundays of March are joyous occasions for those preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. On Sunday, March 5, I celebrated the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for 48 catechumens who are in the final stages of preparation for the reception of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. On Sunday, March 12, I will celebrate the Call to Continuing Conversion with 70 candidates preparing for full incorporation into the Church. The homily I preached on March 5 is printed below. During Lent, please join me in praying for our catechumens and candidates.
My dear brother and sisters in Christ,
How good it is that we are here this afternoon in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mother church of the Diocese. I welcome all of you but I especially welcome the catechumens. Their presence here today for the Rite of Election marks their final preparation for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation.
The Rite of Election is fittingly celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent. Lent is marked by two themes — baptism and penance. We are familiar with the traditional Lenten penitential practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving but we may be less familiar with Lent’s baptismal character. From the earliest days of the Church, the days leading up to Easter were the final days of preparation for those requesting the sacrament of Baptism. For those already baptized it was a time to consider how well the promises of baptism were being lived.
Our catechumens have progressed in their faith journey. They have opened their hearts to Christ in a spirit of faith and love. This afternoon they are “elected” for initiation into the Church. They will publicly express their desire for baptism to me and their names will be recorded in a book. They become “the elect.”
The word “election” as we use it in the Rite of Election is a literal translation of the Latin word for “chosen.” Many beautiful scripture passages refer to God’s call and choice of 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).
Reflecting on God’s choice of us Pope Francis says, “Have you thought about it? The Lord . . . thinks of me! I am in the Lord’s mind and in His heart! The Lord is in love with his people. And when he says to his people: “I haven’t chosen you because you are the strongest, the biggest, the most powerful. I have chosen you because you are the smallest of them all. . . . This is love! (Homily, 3/16/15).
Dear catechumens, you are in God’s mind and heart. He has chosen you in love to share in His life and the life of His Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy 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 your full commitment. During your preparation for today, you have learned about your faith. For the rest of your life this knowledge should grow and increase.
Faith, however, is more than knowing about God and the tenets of your faith. It is “knowing” Christ as your savior, your brother, your friend and your companion. In this sense, knowing is akin to love which becomes the foundation of a relationship. Christ gave Himself in love for you and you in return give yourself, mind and heart to Him. Faith is the gift of yourself to God who has given Himself to you.
God has chosen you to share in His life and His mission. In a few moments, I will ask you, “Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist?” You will answer, “We do.” This is your public and formal response to God’s invitation. But your response cannot be a one-time “yes” to the divine initiative. As you enter fully into the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil you will repeat your “yes” and in the days thereafter you must continue to respond to God’s call. The “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives meaning to your whole life. He wants always to draw near to you.
Dear catechumens, recall often what God has done for you and be attentive to what He does for you day by day. The journey of faith lasts a lifetime. We can never rest on our laurels, so to speak. We are called daily to grow in our knowledge of Christ, to live our faith as worthy disciples of Jesus, and to share the priceless treasure of our faith with others. As Pope Francis often reminds us we are called to be “missionary disciples.”
For those of us who have been baptized, Lent is time to consider how well we are living our baptismal promises and living in imitation of Christ. This Rite of Election reminds all of us we need to asses our baptismal relationship with God in preparation for the renewal of baptismal promises at Easter so that “all of us may walk in newness of life and show the world the power of the risen Christ” (Intercessions, 3rd Scrutiny).
We can best accompany our catechumens on their journey by witnessing to the Gospel, by living as committed followers of Jesus who share their faith by word and deed. May we embrace our catechumens in love and support them during the final days of preparation for the reception of the sacraments.
Dear catechumens, may this holy Rite of Election see you joyfully embrace the faith. May you always look upon the Church as your mother. May your love for her be deep and sincere. 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. She is the one who carefully kept all His words within her heart, treasuring and pondering their meaning. May we do the same and like her say our “yes,” committing our whole self to God who loves us and calls us by name.
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.