It’s a truly inspiring sight. To stand in the sanctuary of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a church that comfortably holds some 3,000 people, and watch hundreds and hundreds come forward on the First Sunday of Lent for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
I presided at this rite last Sunday at the Basilica and will do so again next Sunday, by which time I will have formally welcomed and invited over 1,100 adults, teens and children to enter into full Communion with the Catholic Church – to become new members of our family of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Sunday’s gathering was like a family reunion, where those seeking to join the Catholic Church were accompanied by their godparents and sponsors, and by their family and friends. For me, this is one of the most hope-filled days of the year, as I greet personally our soon-to-be new family members. Those who have not yet been baptized are called catechumens, and they express a desire to seek Baptism, then they are known as “the Elect,” people who have been chosen by God to enter the Church. Those who have already been baptized as Christians, known as “Candidates,” are formally recognized as being ready to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church.
During Lent, the Elect and Candidates continue an intense period of spiritual preparation. The Lenten pilgrimage of repentance and renewal takes on special meaning for them, as they prepare to receive new life in Christ at Easter. At the Easter Vigil at their parish churches, surrounded by their new family of faith, the Elect will be baptized, then they will join the Candidates in being confirmed and then in receiving Jesus in Communion.
These aspiring Catholics have much to offer us. They represent all ages, all backgrounds, all walks of life, but they share a calling, to become a disciple of Christ and become members of his Church. For many months, they study the Church’s teachings, traditions and its history. Then after becoming full members of the Catholic Church at Easter, many of them become very active volunteers and leaders in our parishes. All of us can learn from their witness of seeking Christ, of deepening their faith and sharing it with others as Jesus’ disciples in today’s world. The joy of the risen Lord, and the joy that the first disciples must have felt in following him, is truly present in these seekers.
The Rite of Election offers a moment of hope to encourage us on our Lenten journey and reminds us of the goal we all share as Christians – to be united with the Risen Lord for eternity.