Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted signs a parish’s “Book of the Elect,” representing Christ accepting the catechumens as “elect,” during the Rite of Election at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catechumens become elect, entering final stage before baptism

For Echo Sullivan, it is the faith of her late husband that’s guiding her into the Catholic Church. Sullivan was one of 600 catechumens who crowded Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the Rite of Election Feb. 18.

For years Sullivan, a catechumen from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Queen Creek, had been looking at different religions, but she always went to Mass with her husband who passed away Jan. 11. When she decided to enter the Church, she said her husband, a former altar boy, would accompany her to RCIA classes.

“He was always a part of the Church,” Sullivan said. “He was coming to classes, too. He said that he knew that there were changes in the Church, and he wanted to learn about the changes, and he says he also knew that in 60 years, there were things that he’d forgotten. So it was interesting for him, as well.”

What ultimately drew her in was the history of the Church. “It’s got historical documents starting from way back in the beginning,” Sullivan said. “There’s an established history, it’s not a recent history. It’s not some creation that some modern person has come up with.”

EN ESPAÑOL: Jornada sin miedo

Echo Sullivan (left), a catechumen from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Queen Creek, joins her sponsor, Tanya Kumarakulasingam, following the Rite of Election at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Rite of Election is the moment when catechumens — those planning to enter the Church but who have not been baptized — are presented to the bishop who acknowledges that they are being called by Christ. The presentation happens in the form of their names being written in a “Book of Elect,” which each parish brings forward to be signed by the bishop, a reference to the “Book of Life” found throughout Revelation, said Fr. John Muir, associate director for the diocesan Office of Worship.

“In this rite, when you see how seriously the Church takes being called to be baptized, it highlights just how amazing we think baptism is, how seriously we take it as a participation in Christ’s death and resurrection,” said Fr. Muir. “To be called into that is the most significant thing that can happen to a human being in his or her life, to become a new creation.”

The rite happens at the beginning of the Lenten season, Fr. Muir said, so the catechumens can go through a “final intense period of purification” leading up to baptism and confirmation at the Eater Vigil. “You got 40 days to go for this intensified spiritual purification.”

Dcn. Billy Chavira from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, who served as one of the masters of ceremonies for the Rite of election, accepts a “Book of the Elect” from a parish representative to be signed by the bishop at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

In his homily, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted told the catechumens Jesus was calling them on the way to freedom — freedom from lies, addiction and guilt, and freedom for truth and love.

“Not only does God have a plan for the life of every one of His creatures, a loving plan especially for men and women, but Satan also has a plan for every human being — a plan diametrically opposed to God’s plan,” said Bishop Olmsted. “Because there are two plans for every one of us, one for our eternal happiness, one for our eternal damnation, our life on earth is one of spiritual warfare.”

Reflecting on the Gospel passage for the day — Mark’s account of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert and then proclaiming the “time of fulfillment” — the bishop noted that Satan tried in vain to compromise Jesus’ love for the Father and he constantly tries to do the same to us, especially the catechumens.

“The devil tempts us to doubt God’s love, to lose faith in God’s plan for our happiness. But Jesus conquers Satan and brings us into His Kingdom of Light,” he said. Referring to Jesus becoming a man, the bishop said it was a “decisive moment, a turning point in human history. In a parallel way, for catechumens, Jesus is breaking into their personal history to fulfill His promises. It is a decisive moment for each of them.”

A parish representative holds a “Book of the Elect” containing the names of all of the catechumens from her parish at the Rite of Election at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Feb. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Jennifer Pruitt, a catechumen from Our Lady of Angels Parish affiliated with the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, said she feels that call in her heart to go forward with the Catholic Church and she’s “running to God in this process.”

“I think we’re all being called like that, like Jesus was to the desert by the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Dcn. Lorenzo McKnight, director of liturgical ministries at St. Augustine Parish, presented 51 catechumens during the rite. A convert himself, Dcn. McKnight says that it’s the example Christians set that brings others to the faith. “I married into a Catholic family,” he said. “It was through example that I began to inquire and want to be a part of what I saw.”

Reflecting on his own experience, Dcn. McKnight offered this advice to the elect: “Continue to keep your eyes focused on the Lord. Continue to study. Continue to pray and meditate and come to know more and more about our Lord. He has wonderful things set aside for us and all we have to do is seek Him and we shall find.”