The final stretch: Hundreds of ‘elect’ enter final discernment process before becoming fully Catholic

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Students in the Rite of Christian Initiation program at parishes throughout the Diocese of Phoenix await Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted's procession into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 14. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Students in the Rite of Christian Initiation program at parishes throughout the Diocese of Phoenix await Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s procession into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 14. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Some 600 people had a memorable way of showing their newfound or newly re-committed love for the Catholic faith.

They spent part of the afternoon on Valentine’s Day elevating their status from catechumens to the “elect,” who, after finishing the Lenten journey, will seal their commitment to the Church at the Easter Vigil. It was all part of the Rite of Elect held the first Sunday of Lent — which happened to fall on Feb. 14 this year — at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.

The crowd was half students from the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and its counterpart for children across the Diocese of Phoenix and half their sponsor. Their teachers spread throughout the crowd too.

They squished into every pew and filled folding chairs that lined the aisles for the occasion. It brings back memories every year for Dan Mueller. He grew up Protestant, but while raising his children Catholic, realized he could be better positioned to help them in their faith if the Church’s prayers were also his own.

Dan Mueller from St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Dan Mueller from St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Mueller came into the Church several years ago and is completing his sixth year as an RCIA instructor at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish in Scottsdale. This year, there are 17 candidates in the program “getting ready to leave the nest.”

“You watch them go through an intimate part of life’s journey as a friend, as a mentor, as a confidante,” Mueller said.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted signs each parish's Book of the Elect Feb. 14. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted signs each parish’s Book of the Elect Feb. 14. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

He was among the dozens of RCIA leaders or students who solemnly processed their respective parish’s “Book of the Elect” down the main aisle during the ceremony. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted inquired whether those who signed their name in each one had done so of their own free will and after much formation and discernment.

Their godparents vouched for them. Bishop Olmsted reminded the godparents that their work was not finished and that their example will always matter. He also gave a homily aimed at the elect as they embarked on their Lenten journey.

It wasn’t a full Mass because the majority hadn’t made their first communion yet, but the ceremony started off a bit like one. The crowd heard the same readings Catholics worldwide heard at Mass that day: the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Resisting simple daily temptations helps Catholics resist the devil and grow in virtue, the bishop said, “and giving in to temptation never brings us joy.” He encouraged the crowd to emulate Jesus’ response to temptation: with the Truth. It’s like a lion, he said, let it loose and it will defend itself.

(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“Speak it simply and trust that the Word of God will help us defeat Satan and bear fruit in our lives,” the bishop said.

It’s been a bit easy for Tim Niesz to embrace the Word of God throughout RCIA. The St. Bernard of Clairvaux parishioner has been coming to Mass some 44 years with his family. His grandson became fully initiated into the faith two years ago and Niesz thought about doing the same then.

“This is going to make my whole family unit one,” said Niesz, who was Presbyterian and whose 1-year-old granddaughter was baptized earlier that day at St. Maria Goretti in Scottsdale.

“I’ve learned so much to reaffirm what little I did know before,” he said.

The Rite of Election day was meaningful for Steve Nasr too. It was also his birthday and “re-birthday,” he said.

Nasr will also come into the Church at St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He was raised Episcopalian, but graduated from a Jesuit high school, so he sees it more as a coming home than a conversion. Nasr learned is eager to

“I’m looking forward to the Easter Vigil and reconciliation. I need to get rid of some baggage,” Nasr admitted, who said he had learned a lot about true devotion to a faith and about the freedom of free will.

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