On Sunday, March 10, 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 49 catechumens, including 9 children, who will receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Twenty-two parishes participated in the Rite of Election. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below. Candidates awaiting full incorporation into the Church through the reception of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil were received in their local parishes. 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:
Welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Mother Church of our beloved diocese. What a wonderful sight, on the First Sunday of Lent, to see our cathedral filled with men and women of deep faith. This is a joyful occasion for our catechumens and for their family and friends who accompany them today.
The Rite of Election brings together those whose final preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation is well underway. Our catechumens have joyful hearts as they await 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 will be filled with the fullness of the Holy Spirit and strengthened to share their faith and witness to the Gospel. 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 the second reading for Mass today St. Paul tells us, “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rm 10:9). To confess and believe in Jesus requires more than our human effort. We need God’s intervention into our lives. We need His invitation to be with Him, to know Him, and to follow Him.
At some point in their lives, our catechumens heard this invitation. It may have come through the good example of faith-filled members of the Church or in quiet prayer when a still, small voice drew them to find out more about the Catholic faith. Perhaps it came in a time of struggle and loss when they sought answers to the meaning of life. In whatever manner the invitation came, it drew our catechumens to learn more about our faith and the personal relationship that God wishes to have with each of them.
The first reading at Mass today portrays God as attentive to and engaged in the life of the Chosen People. He “heard” their cries, “saw” their affliction. He “brought them” out of slavery from Egypt and “gave them” a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Dt 26:7-9).
Dear catechumens, God has been active in your lives. You have experienced the movement of His grace in your lives. You have listened and responded to Him. During the past months, you have learned about God’s plan for you and about the teachings of the Church. You have listened to God’s inspired word in the Scriptures and applied it to your own life. This Rite of Election calls you and all of us to ongoing conversion.
Each year, on the First Sunday of Lent, we read the Gospel account of the Lord’s 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert followed by His three-fold temptation to depart from God’s plan. The account of the temptation — the Lord alone, struggling to fast for 40 days — is one of the great scenes in all of Sacred Scripture. We can hardly imagine such a fast, for very few of us have truly fasted as Jesus did, for such a long time. Then, with His body weakened, but His spirit cleansed and fortified, Jesus looks up and beholds the great foe — Satan — the Angel who fell from grace, and whose only kingdom now is the kingdom of suffering and despair. Three times Satan tempts Jesus.
This Gospel narrative is more than history, more than facts related to an event in Christ’s life. This story is our story. On the journey to eternal life, we contend with our human failings as we meet opportunities to choose between good and evil. Temptations happen to us as they happened to Christ.
The temptation narrative is a dramatic story about the devil and how he tries to make inroads into each of our lives. We will not overcome temptation every time we encounter it, for we are not perfect as Christ is. With His help and grace, however, and our consistent efforts to put aside those things that we know are contrary to God’s plan, we can succeed and one day enjoy everlasting life. On the journey of life and faith, we will face temptations but like the Chosen People we can be confident that Jesus sees us and hears our prayers for the courage to choose good over evil. And when we fail to choose the good — as we will — He is always ready to welcome us back with mercy and love.
These are challenging times for our Church. Pope John Paul I told us that even when the Church is defective and in error, we must love her. In a story to illustrate this point, he reminded us that if our mother becomes sick or becomes lame, we love her anyway. In the Church, there are defects but we must never be lacking in love for her. Pope John Paul I said the Church has an “extraordinary soap” to cleanse her blemishes: in the Gospel, read and lived; in the sacraments, celebrated properly; and in prayer which can make us all saints.
Dear catechumens, during these challenging times we cannot forget that there are many wonderful people in the Church who sincerely remain committed to God and the Gospel. These credible companions far outweigh those who have betrayed our trust.
As we journey together to the joy of the Easter Vigil, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is our companion on the journey of life and faith. Be assured of my prayers for you during the final stages of your preparation for the Easter Vigil and in the days that follow it. We look forward with joy to the day when you can join us fully at the Eucharist and receive the nourishment of Christ’s sacred Body and Blood. May your days be filled with joy and peace.
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.