The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion
Many times in the Gospels we hear Jesus say, “Come, follow me,” and people did, setting out on the path of new and eternal life. In our time, Christ’s voice continues to be heard, and today and next Sunday, a special group of people answering his call are gathering at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the celebration of the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. The catechumens among them are coming to publicly express their desire for baptism and the other sacraments of initiation – the Eucharist and Confirmation. Then candidates who have already been baptized in non-Catholic Christian communities will similarly declare their desire to join in full communion with the Catholic Church.
Traditionally, the Rite is celebrated only on the First Sunday of Lent. So many people have wanted to join our Catholic family in recent years, however, that we now need two Sundays to accommodate them all. This year, we expect over 1,200 catechumens and candidates, each accompanied by godparents, sponsors, family and friends.
Ahead in their Lenten journey is final preparation and purification through prayer, spiritual direction, self-searching and repentance. For the catechumens, subsequent Sundays will also include the “scrutinies,” which invoke the Holy Spirit together with the Church’s prayers to heal what is weak or sinful in their hearts and to strengthen in Christ all that is upright and good in them. Catechumens are also presented during this time with the Creed, which they will profess before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, as well as the Lord’s Prayer which will be recited before their First Communion.
For me, these are some of the most inspiring days of the year as I greet our soon-to-be new family members. Coming from all backgrounds and walks of life, yet sharing a common path, a mosaic of peoples as beautiful as the Trinity Dome above them, these aspiring Catholics have much to offer us. We each can learn from their witness of seeking Christ while we ourselves seek “to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life,” as Pope Francis urges in his 2018 Message for Lent.
As we accompany our catechumens and candidates in this journey and support them with our prayers and encouragement, each of us can respond positively to that divine voice in our hearts, rededicate ourselves to our baptismal promises and deepen our own faith with a life of ongoing conversion. Not only would it bring us greater joy, but we could make the world around us just a little better if each day we were to say “Yes” to God with our whole lives.