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 F