The Rite of Election took place last Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. It was an inspiring moment for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and in the life of the church. This year some 1,200 people in the Milwaukee Archdiocese will be called as the elect and candidates for admission to the Catholic Church.
A number will receive the sacrament of baptism for the first time (the elect), while already validly baptized (candidates) will be admitted to the fullness of the Catholic Church through the reception of the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. This will take place as part of the ritual of Holy Saturday during a long, but beautiful ceremony that celebrates the new life offered to us all through the Paschal Mystery of our Lord.
These individuals have been preparing for admission to the church as members of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). The sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the elect and in the candidates is always remarkable to me.
Each story is unique. Some have been called to profess the Catholic faith through the example of a spouse, a loved one or a mentor; others come to an intellectual conversion in search of the truth; still others, through an impending marriage that has called them to reassess their faith life, wishing to share a common faith as a married couple or family.
Each of these individuals offers a testimony to the presence of the Holy Spirit alive and well in the church. I marvel at the enthusiasm of those who have come to know the church. Sponsors and catechists walk a journey with the elect and candidates sharing their insights and love for the church. A true bond is created that could only be forged by those committed to the faith.
Many of us cradle Catholics take our faith for granted. It’s a gift to experience the faith through the eyes of a new convert. Many converts inform the lifelong Catholic about aspects of the faith that the lifelong Catholic should have known. A whole world opens up before the convert whose wonder about the faith is contagious for us all.
We are now in the liturgical period of Lent. We celebrate with our converts because it is a time of conversion, a turning away from a sinful life to repentance. It is also a time for deepening one’s faith. In the truest sense, we are all converts called to change our lives to reflect God’s presence.
The Catholic Church is the church that Jesus instituted to lead us to salvation. It is the way given to us. We, the members of the church, represent the Body of Christ. This means that our Lord works in and through his church. The Body of Christ also bears the wounds of the cross; these marks were created by our sins.
On Sunday, I emphasized to our elect and the candidates the importance of assuming the responsibility to live the faith. It doesn’t matter whether we are an archbishop, bishop, priest, deacon, religious or layperson, our good actions build his body or our sins wound the Body of Christ. The great scandal for the world is that the followers of Christ fail to live the Gospel message.
Their profession of faith is not mirrored in their actions. We know the damage that has been inflicted on the church through those who betrayed their positions of trust. It has been a mark of sin and shame. Yet we also know that without Christ’s love, the damage would be beyond repair. However, because of Christ’s sacrificial love, reconciliation is offered to us and healing is possible.
During our Lenten journey, we need to embrace the sacrament of reconciliation. We need to examine our lives and remove the sins that prevent us from building the Body of Christ, his church. The confession of our sins begins the journey to a conversion, a more intimate relationship with Christ. The great saints of the church recognized their need for the Lord. SS. Augustine, Ignatius and Francis, to name but a few, through the confession of their sins, grew closer, in every aspect of their lives, to Christ.
Our converts to Catholicism remind us about the great gift of faith. If we take our faith seriously, then we need to grow through the sacrament of reconciliation in our relationship to Christ. The elect and candidates desire to be Catholic; they want what we have.
During Lent, let us be inspired by the enthusiasm of our converts, commit ourselves to deepening our relationship with Christ and realize just how blessed we are to be called Catholic.