Faith is both a gift from God and a journey

This year’s Rite or Election included 174 catechumens from 39 parishes.
Photo by James A. McBride

On the First Sunday of Lent, March 5th, they came from 39 parishes from the different areas of our diocese to celebrate the Rite of Election. They are called CATECHUMENS. At the Easter Vigil, the high point of the liturgical life of the Church, Saturday, April 15th, the night when the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery, the Lord Jesus rising from the dead to life, these Catechumens will receive the three Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation.

In our diocese there are 174 Catechumens who are converts to our Christian faith and to our Catholic Church. They are a reminder to us that faith is both a gift from God and a journey on which we all travel. For life-long Catholics, the origin of the journey of faith is family and culturally based; for the Catechumen, the journey of faith involves a personal choice that is arrived at after a variety of twists and turns and searching for God. For both the Catechumen and the life-long Catholic, God’s gift of faith needs attention and care in order to mature and grow.

In their journeys and searching for faith, these Catechumens were attracted to Christ and to His Church. Each one can tell a personal story of how this happened; who was involved and who encouraged their search. It may have been a priest, deacon, religious, friend, spouse or a co-worker who by word or example encouraged their spiritual growth and led them to our Church. There is nothing more convincing than a Catholic whose example of life guided by faith inspires another who is searching for God and for a spiritual home.

The Rite of Election is a liturgy that is reserved to the bishop in his role as the Pastor of the local church. The Catechumen is sent to the bishop by the Pastor of his or her parish. They are accompanied by sponsors who assist them on their conversion journey. They are sent from their parish to be with the bishop. To pray with him; to be greeted by him. Accepting the testimony of the parish, the bishop enrolls the Catechumen among the Elect of God but it is God who elects and chooses the Catechumen.

On the Sundays of Lent there are ceremonies called the Scrutinies that are conducted at Mass in the parish. These rituals turn the Elect more fully to Christ who brings His light, love and peace to their souls. These days of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting and charity are critical for those on the journey to the Sacraments as they are for all the Catholic faithful.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is a process of conversion that involves catechesis (learning the teachings of the faith), catechists (instructors in Catholic religion), rituals (ceremonies conducted in church), Bible reading (the stories of Faith), Sunday Mass (the parish community at prayer), sponsors (witnesses to Catholic faith) and the parish priest. All of these encouraging the Catechumen on his or her journey to God in Christ and to the Catholic Church. Finally, on the Night of all Nights, the Night that is the Day, at the culmination of Holy Week the Catechumen is born in the water of life, confirmed in the Holy Spirit and fed at the Table of the Lord. He or she is fully initiated into Jesus Christ and His Church.

Last Sunday, March 5th, in Saint Agnes Church in Blackwood there was great joy and celebration as the Rite of Election was celebrated. And, above all there was even greater hope for the Church in Camden, for me its Pastor and for the Pastors of the 39 parishes from which the 174 Catechumens were sent. We witnessed our community of faith growing.

At the conclusion of the Rite I was greeting the faithful who were exiting the church when a woman approached me with tears streaming down her cheeks telling me that she had never before witnessed the Rite of Election. She spoke of how moved she was to see the 174 Catechumens standing behind me in the sanctuary as I declared them chosen by God for life in Christ and for membership in the Catholic Church and then sent them back to their parishes to prepare during Lent for their Initiation into Christ and His Church.

The Gospel proclaimed at the Rite of Election was from Saint John, the Vine and the Branches, the need to be connected to Christ for life in God. A reminder to both the Catechumens and to all of us about Life in Christ and in His Church. I invite the Church in Camden to pray for our 174 Catechumens during these Lenten days and I invite each of us to be on the lookout for others whom we can invite to the Catechumenate in our parish next year.