Every year, this ceremony, the Rite of Election, fills me with wonder: wonder at the power and beauty of God’s grace! I think about each of you and your unique journeys of faith. Catechumens, men and women, who have been moved by God’s grace to embrace the Christian life. Candidates, men and women, also moved by God’s grace, to enter into full communion with the Church Jesus founded, the Church built on the foundation of the apostles. We are all preparing during Lent to celebrate the great Paschal mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection from the dead, and Ascension into heaven. At Easter, you, our catechumens and candidates, will receive the fruits of the Paschal Mystery through the sacraments, actions of the Holy Spirit at work in Christ’s Body, the Church. The sacraments fill us with life, divine life, new life in Christ. In these coming weeks, you prepare more intensely to receive these gifts that flow from the heart of Jesus.
In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus says: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” This image of Jesus as light will be prominent at the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The liturgy will begin with the blessing of the Easter fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle. The priest will say: “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The Paschal candle will be carried into the darkened church. That light will spread throughout the church as the people’s candles are lit. The beautiful beginning of the Easter Vigil Mass illustrates through symbols that the light of Christ came into this world and illumines the darkness. This light illumines all reality, our whole human existence. It even penetrates to the shadow of death!
Pope Francis’ first encyclical, much of it written originally by Pope Benedict, is called “Lumen Fidei,” “The Light of Faith.” The Holy Father wrote: “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. For a light to be this powerful it cannot come from ourselves; it must come from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives.” The faith you are embracing as catechumens and candidates is a light that will guide you throughout your lives. This faith centered on Christ and on the power of His grace is what brings true happiness and fulfillment to our life. It is a priceless treasure. This light of faith is powerful. It is so powerful, my dear catechumens, that in accepting the gift of faith, you will become at Baptism “a new creation.” You will receive a new existence as children of God. Faith and Baptism bring salvation. You will be transformed by the love to which you have opened your hearts in faith. Your life will take on a whole new breadth and depth.
Catechumens and candidates, as you know, this life of faith is not an individualistic existence – it is a life lived in the Church. As our Holy Father teaches: “Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers.” Some people today claim to say yes to Christ but no to His Church, often because of the sins of members of the Church. But one cannot truly say yes to Christ and no to His Body, no to His Bride. One cannot truly say yes to the gift of salvation and no to the community of salvation. The Church is truly our mother. In the words of Saint Cyprian: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” Even today you do not come here alone. You are here with your godparents and sponsors. At your Baptism and at your Confirmation, they will stand by you. You will not profess the faith alone – they will profess it with you. Faith is a reality lived within the community of the Church.
I have been speaking about the image of light. There is another image in our readings today: water. Through the prophet Ezechiel, God makes this promise to the Jewish people who were in exile in Babylon, people who had turned away from God through the sin of idolatry: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…”. You will hear this reading again at the Easter Vigil, because this passage can be read as an announcement of the effects of Baptism. This image of water is also used by Jesus. For example, He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well about the living water he will provide. And in Jesus’ exaltation on the cross, what happens? His side was pierced by the soldier’s lance and blood and watergushed out, representing the Holy Spirit and the communication of divine life to all who believe in Jesus.
Water is used in the sacrament of Baptism because water is purifying and life-giving. Catechumens, at Baptism, you will be purified from sins and receive a new birth in the Holy Spirit. You will be marked with the seal of the Lord, the seal of eternal life. You and all of us are called to keep that seal to the end, remaining faithful to the demands of our Baptism so that we will depart this life marked with the sign of faith, our baptismal faith.
All of you who will be confirmed will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the seal that marks our total belonging to Christ. You will receive an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Confirmation is a completing of your Baptism, uniting you even more firmly to Christ and His Church.
In the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we heard the following words: “Brothers and sisters: Let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” The author is recalling the purity which the water of Baptism brings. He is encouraging us to stay true to the faith we received and professed at Baptism. He says: “Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope” and “rouse one another to love and good works.” He also says “we should not stay away from our assembly.” These words are an encouragement to perseverance in faith, hope, and charity after Baptism and also an encouragement to be faithful to the obligation to gather with the Christian assembly every Sunday for Mass. So I encourage you, in the years to come, to continue to grow in your faith, to practice the faith, and to pursue the path of holiness.
Dear catechumens and candidates, you will also receive your first Holy Communion, the sacrament that completes your Christian initiation. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Recall that at the crucifixion, not only water flowed from the pierced side of Christ. Blood also flowed from his Sacred Heart, representing the Holy Eucharist. I urge you not to neglect the Sunday encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, the banquet which Christ prepares for us in His love. I and all of us here present look forward with joy to your joining us in receiving the Holy Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that we receive strength to advance on our journey to heaven. Jesus promised to stay with His disciples while they wait for His return in glory. The Eucharist fulfills that promise in a unique way. The Eucharist is the Church’s most beautiful treasure because it is Jesus Himself. In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and makes us His Body. It is the sacrament of love – Christ gives us His love so that we can live always in His love and spread that love. Christ’s love comes into us and makes us capable of loving one another as He has loved us. From this flows joy, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of the Christian life, a joy that not even suffering or death can take away.
As we prepare for Easter, let us walk together on this Lenten journey, praying for one another. Besides us in this journey is our Mother Mary. She accompanies us on our journey of faith with her maternal love. Mary, the Mother of God, gave the world its true light, Jesus, the Son of God. She teaches us to know and to love Him. May the Blessed Virgin Mary watch over you and protect you and lead you to the Kingdom of her Son!