My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Rite of Election, on the First Sunday of Lent, is a highlight of the Liturgical Year. On that day, those who are to be baptized at Easter, those who are to make a Profession of Faith in the Catholic Church, and those who are to complete the sacraments of initiation of communion and confirmation come together in ceremony. Here they are inscribed in the Book of Election, signifying that they have been chosen worthy to be admitted to the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
The strength and diversity of the Church in Brooklyn and Queens is evident through this powerful ceremony. All told, this year we were blessed with 1,125 people completing their sacraments of initiation, and attending the Rite of Election. With the addition of sponsors and parish catechists, attendance was so strong, two back-to-back ceremonies were needed to accommodate everyone.
The Scripture readings for the day were those of the First Sunday of Lent, which portray the temptations of Jesus in the desert as He began His public ministry. All three of the Synoptic Gospels present a slightly different understanding of these temptations, but in essence they are the same. Each year, I preach of how we can relate the temptations of Jesus to what we experience in our own lives.
The first temptation was to change stones into bread. We can relate to this through our attachment to food, sexual pleasure or anything else that indulges our human senses.
The second temptation was to bow down and worship the devil himself. We experience this when we worship our ego, in essence making ourselves God, and neglecting others.
Finally, the third temptation for Jesus was to jump from the top of the temple forcing God to rescue Him with His angels, and therefore proving God’s love. In a similar way, at times we test God by putting ourselves in dangerous situations jeopardizing our faith life.
Whatever the temptations we experience, we are never alone, as we have God’s grace and the protection of His angels. But we must acknowledge that we are dependent on God in order to resist the devil. Our world today seems to negate the personal presence of evil. Evil becomes generalized, and people may say, “It is just the way things are.” The temptations of Jesus, however, remind us that the devil seeks us out personally, constantly trying to snare us in sin and turn us away from God.
The challenge for our new Catholics and our fully initiated Catholics is to remain faithful to their call. It has been noted in our Diocese and across the country, that the number of those who persevere has fallen. At one time, it was new converts who became the strongest of Catholics, but today it seems they simply adhere to the lax practices they see around them. This certainly is a concern that we are trying to address through a more thorough catechesis.
Currently, catechesis begins in September and ends with baptism at the Easter Vigil in late March or April. This may not be enough time for some to assimilate and attach themselves to the faith. Therefore we are looking for new ways to catechize through the Internet. Classes supplemented with online programs may provide more opportunity for people to deepen their knowledge of the faith
During this Lent, you will witness the public welcoming of new converts through the celebration of the Scrutinies. There are three Scrutinies, celebrated on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. These ancient rites are meant for self-searching. Each deals with overcoming the power of sin and our salvation in God.
The first Scrutiny deals with the Samaritan woman who realizes Jesus is the “living water” which cleanses our sins and quenches our spiritual thirst.
The second Scrutiny deals with the blind man who regains his sight when he recognizes Jesus as the light of the world.
The third Scrutiny deals with the raising of Lazarus, exemplifying the power of Jesus over death.
The celebration of the Scrutinies gives the entire faith community an opportunity to welcome the new members among us. This culminates at the Easter Vigil itself. In most of our churches, our Easter Vigil is very well attended. We see that the new converts give us new hope and renewed confidence in the growth of the Church.
Usually, I celebrate the Easter Vigil at a parish that has a significant number of Catechumens and Candidates. This year, I will be celebrating at St. Agatha parish in Sunset Park, where the number of Spanish-speaking and Chinese converts necessitates a tri-lingual vigil service. I will faithfully study the Chinese formula for baptism so that I may pronounce the words clearly and correctly, along with the Spanish formula which comes more easily to me. We see the Church at its best as new members are born into the communion of faith.
It is during the Paschal Season that the Church truly puts out into the deep Paschal Mystery – the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In preparation for Easter, I recommend seeing the recently-released movie entitled “Risen.” The film does take liberties in its interpretation of Scripture, but I believe it is a sound recounting of the first Apostles’ experience following the resurrection of Christ.
However you prepare for Easter this year, you may be assured that I am praying for you during your Lenten journey. May you approach Easter renewed and refreshed in your faith.