The Rite of Election, held on the first and second Sundays of Lent, is a threshold moment in the period of spiritual development of the catechumen. It is the liturgy where they declare, before the bishop of their diocese, their godparents and the gathered assembly, their desire for baptism and full initiation into the Catholic Church.

Sunday, March 1, was the first of three Rites of Election held this year for the catechumens of the archdiocese at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. There, before Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines, more than 50 catechumens became “elect,” entering the final phase of their baptismal preparation, while confirmation candidates representing more than 25 parishes also declared their desire to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Their actions represented a choice freely made, said Bishop Haines — one that enriches the faith of all members of the Body of Christ.

“Your very presence in the faith community is a sign of life, of growth,” he said in his homily, adding their testimony enables “all our faith to come alive.”

“You are choosing today to answer the call of God,” he said. “That choice of yours is a sign of hope for us.”

Choosing God

Two catechumens — now members of the elect — in the RCIA program at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Sheboygan were spurred to make that choice after receiving some inspiration from family members.

For Brandon Schoen, 16, it was seeing the change the study of Catholicism was making in his father. For Chris Peterson, 29, it was the recent birth of his son, Calvin.

Both Schoen and Peterson (and little Calvin) will be baptized in a few weeks at the Easter Vigil at Holy Name.

Peterson said that he had experienced “a lot of ups and down with my faith” over the past decade. He had never been baptized, though he and wife Rebecca, a Catholic, were married at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Sheboygan in December 2016. At the time, he was struck by Holy Name pastor Fr. Matthew Widder’s welcoming nature.

“I was expecting to get turned away due to me not being Catholic,” he said. “Instead, Father was simply overjoyed that we were there and praised God.”

Their first child was born almost exactly three years later.

“After the initial excitement passed, we all of a sudden had this baby in front of us and I felt God’s presence,” said Peterson. “I knew I had to teach Calvin about God and the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins.”

For Schoen, attraction to the RCIA process came from seeing his father’s increasing contentment as he deepened his own faith and received catechetical instruction from a neighbor. Though his mother comes from a Protestant background, Schoen had never been baptized in any faith. His father, a baptized Catholic, did not practice his faith until he married Schoen’s stepmother, Samantha.

“I started thinking, ‘My dad’s pretty happy — this must be something good,’” said Schoen.

In RCIA classes, said Peterson, he has learned more about the Catholic faith and “it has cleared up misconceptions I’ve had growing up.”

“The class on Mary was a huge eye-opener and it was even paired with a surprise visit from Fr. Widder, who shared what Mary meant to him — which was inspiring,” he said. “I ended up buying my first rosary from Amazon the next day.”

Schoen reported a similar experience. “I’ve always believed in God but never really knew that much about him. As soon as I got into the Catholic Church, it kind of clicked,” he said. “It just made the day better when I went to church. It made the day a whole lot better, it made the week a whole lot better. It just makes me a little bit happier … I’m confident that I’ve made the right choice and this is where I want to go with my life.”

Following Bishop Haines’ homily, Schoen and Peterson were among the catechumens called forward individually, assembling in the sanctuary. There followed the Affirmation by the Godparents, wherein their godparents testified to the readiness of the catechumen to enter into the next period of the RCIA process.

They are now the Elect and embark on the Period of Purification, the final weeks before their initiation into the Church.

Peterson said the Rite of Election was “a great experience.”

“Being among others that are on their own journey to God in that beautiful cathedral was a great sign that the Church is growing,” he said. “I like the idea of the ceremony for people, like myself, who are coming to Christ to see others and realize that it’s a big deal. This ceremony paired with RCIA and finishing it off with the Easter vigil makes the overall experience significant and is something to look back on to strengthen us throughout our faith journey.”