Rite of Election 2021

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The following is the text of Bishop Rhoades’ remarks on February 21 and 28 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, and St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend, during the Rite of Election.

It is a joy to look out at you who will soon be born anew and become members of the Body of Christ. I am sure that you and your godparents are excited about your initiation into the life of Christ through Baptism. Your sins will be forgiven and you will be born again, becoming sons and daughters of God. Through Confirmation, you will receive the strength of the Holy Spirit to live your new life in Christ. And in the Holy Eucharist, you will receive the food of eternal life.

After you are baptized, you will be able to dare to say “Our Father, who are in heaven.” Now I imagine you have already been praying the Lord’s Prayer as catechumens. But it will be different when you say the “Our Father” after you become Christians. In the early Church, the Lord’s Prayer was not revealed to catechumens until immediately before their Baptism. This was because they would not presume to say the Our Father until they received adoption as God’s sons and daughters. Divine sonship is not part of our human nature. We need to be reborn to heavenly life through the power of Christ the Son in order to have that dignity of sonship. You will receive that sonship when you enter sacramentally into the death of Jesus and are reborn united to Jesus, the divine Son of God. How awesome is the sacrament of Baptism in which we are metaphysically united to the only-begotten Son of God, joined to Him in such a way that we become sons and daughters of God. Baptism makes us able to call the all-powerful Creator of the universe “our Father” in a new and amazing way since we become participants in the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, sharers in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!” Catechumens, when you are baptized, you will receive this spirit of adoption through which you will be able to call God “Abba, Father.” 

I once spoke with some Jewish rabbis about how they understood God as Father. After all, we do see God revealed as Father in the Old Testament. And, yes, they told me they considered God as Father in the sense of being the Creator of the universe and of all people. He was the giver of life and the giver of the law. In the book of the prophet Hosea, we heard how God spoke of the people of Israel as His son. The God of Israel was understood to be the father of His people. Yet, the rabbis told me that they rarely addressed God as father in their individual prayers. They didn’t relate to God in the same way as Christians in the sense of deep personal intimacy. God as father was more of a metaphor referring to God as life-giver and law-giver.

I have always been very interested in how non-Christians relate to God. So I also once asked a Muslim imam about whether he related to God as his father. The imam told me that he didn’t relate to God as his father. Unlike Jews, Muslims do not formally apply “father” to God.

I mention this because we often don’t realize how remarkable it was that Jesus taught the disciples to address God so intimately and affectionately as Abba, Dad. We can only do so because we are united to the Son through Baptism. So catechumens, how wonderful it will be when you pray the Our Father and address God as “Our Father” after you are baptized, after you become His adopted children!

Catechumens, Baptism will be a new beginning in your life, calling God Father in a new way. Throughout the rest of your life, the Christian life, you will grow in this relationship with God our Father through Jesus, the Son, who at Baptism becomes your brother. You will grow through your incorporation into His Body, the Church, the community of faith, hope, and love, the community instituted by Christ, the seed and beginning of His Kingdom.

You will live this Christian life worshipping with us at the liturgy, praying with us to God “hallowed be your name.” Our Father who is all-holy, whose name we hallow, calls us to be holy. As Jesus taught us: “Be holy, as your heavenly Father is holy.” I encourage you to be faithful to prayer that you may grow in holiness as sons and daughters of God.

You will pray with us “thy kingdom come.” This refers primarily to the final coming of God’s Kingdom when Christ returns in glory. But even now, the Church has a mission live in Christ’s kingdom, to spread and build up His kingdom. This is the work of the Holy Spirit whose gifts you will receive at Baptism and Confirmation. In Confirmation, you will receive the Spirit’s strength to bear witness to Christ and His Kingdom through your words and your deeds.

You will pray with us “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When you become Christian, you commit yourselves to doing God’s will. Being united to Jesus and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to God. Obedience to God is part of the Christian life. We learn this obedience from Jesus who was obedient to the Father unto death. Jesus teaches us obedience and gives us the commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” To do God’s will is fundamentally to love, in imitation of Jesus.

You will pray with us: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask the Father, who has given us life, to give us the nourishment that life requires, not only nourishment for our material lives, but also for our spiritual lives. St. Augustine taught that the Holy Eucharist is our daily bread. St. Ignatius of Antioch called it the “medicine of immortality” and “an antidote to death.” I pray that you will always treasure the amazing gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist, food for our souls. I hope that you will always be faithful to Sunday Mass. Every time you receive Holy Communion, the life of grace you receive at Baptism will be preserved, increased and renewed. To grow in the Christian life, we need the nourishment of the Eucharist, the bread for our pilgrimage to heaven.

You will pray with us: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Catechumens, all your sins will be wiped away in the waters of Baptism. But after Baptism, I doubt that any of you will remain without future sins. With repentance in your hearts, you will need to go to confession, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. This is part of the Christian life and necessary for our growth in holiness. We all need to beg God’s forgiveness of sins we commit after Baptism. We need to return to Him like the prodigal son in the parable of Jesus. We do so with hope and confidence in God’s mercy. But notice, this mercy cannot penetrate our hearts unless we forgive those who have trespassed against us. This is part of the new commandment of love. We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, which means forgiving those who trespass against us, including our enemies. This is probably the hardest part of being a Christian, but it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

You will pray with us “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Becoming Christian doesn’t mean you won’t face trials and temptations that can lead to sin and death. We’re all part of a battle, a spiritual battle between good and evil. Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan in the desert and Jesus won the battle, not just in the desert, but also later in His struggle and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus remained faithful to His mission from the Father and overcame sin and death through His passion, death, and resurrection. United to Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we too can remain faithful to our baptismal promises and join in Christ’s victory. But we must pray in order to persevere in the battle. We must ask the Lord to deliver us from evil, to resist the Evil One who is a liar. In fact, he is the father of lies. We can ask St. Michael to defend us in the battle. Even more, I encourage you to be close to the woman who was “full of grace,” our Immaculate Mother Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of the Church. I pray you will always be close to her and devoted to her. I hope you will know deep in your heart her maternal love, care, and protection.

Catechumens, today you become “the elect,” chosen by God to become His adopted children in Christ. I encourage you in these weeks before the Easter Vigil to prepare well, especially through prayer, to receive the wonderful graces of the sacraments of initiation. And I look forward to the day when you will join us as brothers and sisters of Jesus in daring to say: “Our Father.”