Their Lenten Journey – and Ours
One of the most powerful and inspiring manifestations of the Holy Spirit alive and at work in our community today unfolds during the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. As archbishop, I will preside at those ceremonies at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the first two Sundays of Lent, February 22 and March 1. At that time, I will recognize over 1,300 adults, teens and children from throughout the Archdiocese of Washington who will receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil on April 4 and become full members of the Catholic Church.
Their call to conversion is a visible sign that women and men, young and old, from all walks of life, are continuing to respond to our Lord’s invitation: “Come, follow me.” Jesus continues to challenge those who seek God to “come and see” where he is found today, in his Church – among the people of God, in the Body of Christ, within the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Each one of those people who will step forward into the Shrine’s sanctuary has been touched in a special way on their journey of faith. The Holy Spirit, who transforms hearts and changes lives, is the principal agent of evangelization. Each person seeking to enter the Church has a different experience of how they were inspired to take this step. Often the Spirit worked through the witness and example of family members, friends, coworkers or neighbors to bring them to Christ and his Church.
By word or deed, followers of Jesus shared their Catholic faith, and inspired these men and women to seek that life-giving gift. This work of everyday evangelization reminds us that God has made us partners in the work of redemption and wants us to witness to our faith. We must help others to find and keep the joy we have known in the Holy Spirit who leads us and empowers us to share our faith.
In a moving part of the Rite of Election, godparents place their hands on the shoulders of catechumens – people who are seeking Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – and affirm their readiness. Moments later, I declare the catechumens to be members of the elect. Then in the Call of Continuing Conversion, candidates who have already been baptized and who are now seeking to receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist at Easter likewise step forward into the sanctuary. When their sponsors have placed their hands on the candidates’ shoulders, and affirmed their readiness, I will address them, saying that the Church recognizes their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation and to have a place at Christ’s eucharistic table.
The three sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation – are considered gateways to the life of grace. The Church has always marked entry into communion with the Church by means of Baptism and Eucharist. Confirmation completes the grace of Baptism by a special outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts seal the baptized person in union with Christ and equip him or her for active participation in the worship, witness and work of the Church.
During Lent, those seeking to become Catholic bear witness to their desire to follow Christ. They publicly embrace the cross as the pathway not only to eternal life, but also to a richer and fuller experience of life now and, ultimately, to experience the Easter joy of new life in the risen Lord.
As they continue their Lenten journey, the elect and the candidates never walk alone. The godparents of the elect, and the sponsors of the candidates, represent a small part of a very large family of faith that is waiting to welcome them on Easter as they receive the sacraments of initiation. In our parishes and our broader archdiocese, let us accompany and support them.
Their journey of faith reminds us all of that total, ongoing conversion that is called for by Baptism. It calls each of us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, and to deepen our faith and share it with others, so they too can experience Jesus alive in his Church and in his people. The Holy Spirit works in us, and through us, to transform our hearts and the hearts of others, so we can all encounter and be forever changed by the risen Christ.