This past Sunday, more than 800 catechumens (adults seeking Baptism) and candidates (adults seeking full reception to receive the sacraments) participated in the Rite of Election, the beginning of their final preparation for full reception into the Catholic Church. Below is an excerpt of my homily from the Mass at Rite of Election. Please join me in praying for those who join us in seeking to deepen our relationship with Jesus and to enter more fully into the life of the Church.
Whatever has brought you here – we have one thing in common: we have come to deepen our relationship with the Lord Jesus by becoming fully members of the Church, the People of God. We are here because to one degree or another we believe that by becoming members of the Church we shall experience the love of Jesus who gave his life to save us.
And no sooner do you walk in the door of the church today, than you hear the Gospel reading that describes how Jesus was tempted. It tells us that, before he began his public ministry, Jesus withdrew to the desert and while he was engaged in prayer to his heavenly Father, Satan, the father of lies, called on Jesus and tempted him three times.
Three different temptations: to self-satisfaction; to power and glory; and to doubt. What do these three temptations have in common? It’s this: Satan was tempting Jesus to dis-believe in God the Father’s love for him and for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love and, in that love, to redeem us from our sins. Just as Jesus was preparing to preach the Good News, heal the sick, raise the dead, and then to suffer, die, and rise from the dead to save us from our sins –Satan said to him – “No! Don’t do that! Don’t do what your Father in heaven wants!” Use your miraculous powers and gifts for yourself and for your own purposes. Set yourself up as a rival god to your Father in heaven.
Jesus, of course, would have none of it and quickly dismissed Satan so as to teach us how to overcome Satan when he tempts us. In his victory over temptation, we find the strength to fight temptation ourselves. But how will you, as catechumens and candidates be tested? What temptations will Satan throw in your path as you journey toward the Easter Vigil to be baptized and fully initiated into the life of the Church?
Along the way you no doubt will experience the ordinary temptations of daily life but I would submit that you may experience deeper temptations not unlike the temptations that Jesus experienced in the desert. As you continue taking your life of faith seriously –praying, repenting of your sins, reading Scripture, learning about the faith, opening your hearts to Christ and his love perhaps as never before –as you begin doing all these things, Satan will say to you –“Really? “Why are you wasting your time?” “What make you think God loves you?”
In other words, he will tempt us to disbelieve that God really does love us. Or the temptation may come in a more subtle form. The devil (who is always in the details) may tempt you to reason in this way: “Well, all these things I’m learning about the faith are nice and all, but really getting baptized and received into the Church is just a formality. If I don’t like it, I can always leave.” Or the great tempter may say to you, “You’re only doing this to please your Mom or your Dad or your spouse. Make them happy. You can drop out little by little. There’s no point to all this.”
So it is that Pope Francis calls you and me not to accept the faith as a mere formality but rather to allow Christ to find us, to open our hearts to him in faith and love, truly to encounter Christ and allow him to walk with us in our daily lives. In the same way Pope Benedict once said, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty ideal but the encounter with an event, a person, (i.e., the person of Christ) who gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction.”
And so if you want to avoid the temptation of doubting God’s love for you or the temptation of seeing the faith as a mere formality, then join with all of us who have been a part of the Church for a long time! Join with us in seeking the grace truly to open our hearts widely to Christ, to fall in love with Christ in a quite personal and definitive way, so that the light of his love will give meaning to every part of our lives –every relationship, our daily work, our joys, our sufferings, even our sinful frailty. Join with us in walking the path of discipleship, sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his words and letting them shape our heart of hearts. No one walks the path of faith alone – you are in good company! Come, let us be fellow disciples in the Church, the Body of Christ!
Jesus’ love for us doesn’t fade. The Father’s love doesn’t fade. Rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love reaches us and does so in an especially powerful way through the Sacraments, the very Sacraments you are preparing to take part in. God’s love for you and me is for keeps! Believe in his love! Believe that God loves you in Christ deeply and personally and that no matter what you may face, his love will never fail you!
My prayer for you, your families, your catechists, and your friends is that your relationship with Christ, your commitment to the Church, your faith, your hope, and your love will grow only brighter and stronger day by day, month by month, year by year until you see God face to face.