Our annual Rites of Election celebrations frame this week of Lenten activity. On Sunday at Sacred Heart Cathedral, we celebrated the rite at 2 and at 7:30 p.m. St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads will host the third and last of them on Sunday, March 20.
I don’t know how many of these celebrations I have presided at over the years but, whatever the number, they are always joyful events which, as I see things, raise the spirits and renew the hopes of all who participate. I know that that is true for me.
Judging by the spirit of the catechumens and candidates — and by their facial expressions — they also find the experience to be a most joyful one. It is after all, a moment of special significance in their respective journeys of faith. Over the years when catechumens and candidates speak of the experience, they reflect on a number of elements that make the rite so special for them.
One that emerges very often is that the rite puts them in touch with the first stirrings of faith that they experienced. They speak of their first attraction to the Lord Jesus and try to describe what about him stirred their imaginations or appealed to their hearts. They reflect on their lives of prayer — how that first attraction led each to develop a life of prayer and how their habits or styles of prayer have evolved since they first began.
A second awareness that the newly elect speak of often is how important to them has been the invitation, encouragement and witness offered by those who are already initiated into our community of faith. Usually these gifts are offered in simple ways in ordinary circumstances. Some speak of being invited to Mass or a church event of some kind. Others mention outreach to them when they were experiencing difficulties. Or being impressed by the joy they see in the community, or a generous spirit of service.
Part of the fascination of it for me is that there are as many stories as there are catechumens and candidates presented for election. It is a reminder that each one of us is called by name, that each of us has a journey and a story that are not exactly the same as anyone else’s.
Now they come to the stage of their faith journey in which they make final preparation for their baptisms or receptions into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. This Lenten time is for them, as it is for all of us, a period when we pray for the grace to open our hearts as fully as possible to Easter life.
Most of us do that by attending to the time-tested practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which in one way or another remind us of the kind of relationships we should enjoy with God and neighbor.
By these words, I hope to encourage you to respond wholeheartedly to the invitations offered to us in this season of Lent: to turn away from our sin and to believe the Gospel and to pray especially for our sisters and brothers who so eagerly and ardently are preparing for initiation into our faith community at the Easter Vigil.
Peace to all.