I was at St. Bernadette Church on March 1, and I found a church packed with enthusiasm. I am told that 388 adults and children are preparing to come into the Catholic Church, either through baptism at the Easter vigil or by completing their conversion to full communion with the Catholic Church.
The scene was the annual Rite of Election during which the bishop receives those candidates who have already expressed their longing to become members of the Catholic Church and are being prepared in their local parish. They are elected by God.
When so many come together with their sponsors and catechists, it is such a clear expression of the community of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the head, and we are the members. The Lenten season becomes a time during which we accompany these blessed individuals to the Easter vigil.
When you see so many in one place, it is tempting to count the numbers, until you meet a particular person and understand the great movement in the heart of individuals. About a week before the Rite of Election, I met a mother and daughter in the vestibule of one of our churches. They expressed such enthusiasm and excitement for being part of the Church. I wanted to hear more about their story, but the press of the crowd that evening made that impossible. Their image came to mind later in my prayer as I reflected about how God calls us one at a time, and He calls us by name.
The Rite of Election ceremony includes two special songs that still echo in my mind. The first is “Blessed be God who called you by name, holy and chosen one.”
One only has to read and reflect on Sacred Scripture to know that on virtually every page, there is a prophet or an apostle being called by name. Jesus spoke the name of each of the 12 apostles when he first called them to follow Him. Thus, he has in mind the name of each of the 388 people coming into the church. He calls them by name. He knows them. He loves them. Each is holy and chosen. We often speak of the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God, and we know that this dignity is elevated by the gift of baptism. There is a mystery of being called by name and being chosen and beloved.
We sing the second song at the very beginning of the liturgy. It is entitled “We Belong to You.” The refrain is “We belong to you, O Lord of our longing, we belong to you.” The importance of belonging is central in today’s culture. For the last four years, I have served as the episcopal moderator of a national group called the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD). In the vision that motivates NCPD, there is a preference for the word belonging over the word inclusion. Of course, it is important to include others in our lives, but that word emphasizes those who are excluded. The word belonging seems to put us on equal footing.
We all desire to belong. These 388 blessed and chosen ones are in the process of belonging to the Catholic Church — a church that contains the marks of one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. For sure, we members have imperfections, and we sin — sadly often very blatantly. However, this does not diminish the fact that the Church belongs to Christ, and we belong to Christ. We are chosen ones and through our baptism, we become aware of the dignity that is ours and the dignity to which we are called to live.
At the end of the Lenten season, when on Good Friday we recall the saving death of Jesus on the cross and on Easter Sunday witness in our hearts the resurrection that occurred now 2000 years ago, we are aware that through baptism we, too, are lifted up. Beloved and blessed, chosen by name, we renew our baptismal promises to live in the grace of Jesus Christ. What is more, we do so together in the community we call the Church, in the community in which we belong. We belong to Christ and his Church together, and together we become one. Please pray for these 388 catechumens and candidates, each called by name and chosen.