“Imagine the day you were born. Now imagine that the Church of the Diocese of Fall River is rejoicing in the same way (as your parents did), welcoming you into our family of faith.”
With these words, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., began his homily last Sunday at the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, the ritual in which people preparing to enter the Catholic faith at Easter are blessed by the bishop and begin their final, Lenten preparation for the reception of the Sacraments.
After speaking about the joy that the soon-to-be new Catholics and we “old” Catholics will share at Easter, the bishop said, “I have also to remind you of the promise and commitment you will assume. You will be tempted to return to your old ways of life.” Echoing the Gospel of the day, the bishop recalled that Jesus was tempted in the desert right after His Baptism at the Jordan. “Here lives a big difference — Jesus did not give into temptation because He knew He had a mission.”
Bishop da Cunha reminded his listeners that we all have a mission, but that our temptations try to lure us away from them: “Temptations look a lot better before you give into them than afterwards.”
“The Lord invites us to remain faithful to Him. You cannot enter the Promised Land without passing through the desert,” the bishop said, literally referring to the journey of our Spiritual ancestors from Egypt to Israel and figuratively explaining the Spiritual life.
“Remember, you are not alone. You have a family of faith walking with you.” The bishop then asked, “Will you remain faithful to that ‘yes’ for the rest of your life?”
To maintain that “yes” until death, the bishop reminded us that we need to open our hearts and minds to Christ. He will then help us to remain faithful, as He is faithful.
Our catechumens (now the elect, after last Sunday’s rite) and candidates for full Communion remind us of the great gifts we “cradle Catholics” often take for granted. Their enthusiasm for the faith can help rekindle (or ignite for the first time) our own love for the Lord and for His Church.
In 2013, addressing a group of adults preparing for Baptism, Pope Francis said, “You, too, dear catechumens, have listened to those who have spoken to you about Jesus and suggested that you follow Him by becoming His disciples through Baptism. Amid the din of many voices that echo around you and within you, you have listened and accepted the voice that points to Jesus as the One Who can give full meaning to our life.”
As Bishop da Cunha did, so also the Holy Father reminded the catechumens to be faithful, a fidelity which Jesus would help them to achieve: “Dear catechumens, today you begin the journey of the catechumenate. My wish for you is to follow it with joy, sure of the entire Church’s support, who is watching over you with great trust. May Mary, the perfect disciple, accompany you: it is beautiful to have her as our mother in faith! I invite you to guard the enthusiasm of that first moment in which He opened your eyes to the light of faith; to remember, like the beloved disciple, the day, the hour in which for the first time you stayed with Jesus, felt His gaze upon you. Never forget the gaze of Jesus upon you; upon you, upon you — never forget His gaze! It is a gaze of love. And thus you shall be forever certain of the Lord’s faithful love. He is faithful. Be assured: He will never betray you!”
In 1982, St. John Paul II baptized a group of catechumens while visiting Nigeria. His words to them speak to the hearts of today’s catechumens and to us veterans of the faith: “In a few moments I shall baptize and confirm a group of catechumens representing the different dioceses in Nigeria. The seed planted in this land through the Church’s faithful proclamation of the Good News of Salvation has borne fruit. Through Jesus Christ, in Whom we have redemption through His Blood, we have new members in His Body, the Church.
“These brothers and sisters will now be cleansed with water by the power of the Living Word, which make them sharers in God’s Own life and His adopted children. They — and all of us together — will profess the Church’s faith in the power of the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection. In Baptism we are not only buried with Christ; we are also raised to life with Him, because we believe in the power of God Who raised Him from the dead.
“In Confirmation these brothers and sisters of ours will be strengthened to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love. They will be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the service of the Church in love.
“Brothers and sisters, these Sacred rites of Christian initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharistic Sacrifice — remind us that we are all witnesses to Christ. May He stir our hearts to ever greater love.” May that be true for us here in Massachusetts, too.