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Will and grace and the journey to Easter


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, one of the important ceremonies in the life of any diocese is what we call the Rite of Election. It is the ceremony that each diocese celebrates on the First Sunday of Lent each year and it calls those who have been enquiring about the gift of faith and responding to that call, to the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and first Holy Communion.

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This year we celebrated it on February 21, and we had just under 30 candidates. This is a little down on previous years, mostly due to COVID.

I really like this ceremony for several reasons. First, I get to listen to the story of people who have come to the gift of faith; to listen to what God is doing in people’s lives. It is so personal and vivid, and yet the community or family or parish community plays such a great role as well. People always describe their journey of faith with an unfailing variety of circumstances and pathways. Most speak of an ‘itch’ or a ‘hunger’ to which they have responded. The faithfulness of God is so obvious in listening to these stories, even the Reader’s Digest versions. Most have been inspired by someone else who lives out the gift of faith. It is a reminder that before all else, faith is a gift, yet a gift nurtured by a community of faith, in whatever form that may take: family, parish or a group of people.

The second aspect of the Rite of Election that I like is that it reminds us all of what Lent is about, namely that in the first place it is what God is doing, and then only second it is about what we do. Listening to and meeting people from all ages and backgrounds, literally colours in what Lent is all about. It reminds us that before we do anything it has been prompted by God who draws us ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love. It is where our will meets the grace of God.

One word that lies behind what has been happening in the lives of those drawn to Easter baptism, and it describes our own journey too, is repentance. Repentance or conversion is a word we hear so often in Lent and we are tempted to think that it is something we do, and that we can accomplish on our own, our ‘will’ if you like. Will is important. We need to want to change. Yet it is also about what God wants to do in the Lenten and Easter seasons, the grace of God so abundantly present and readily available.

In speaking before the ceremony to the candidates, I spoke of the dual nature of conversion, namely the ‘turning away’ from sin and death and the ‘turning toward’ new life in Christ. This double movement is ever present in the liturgy of Lent, ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel’, or in the words of last month’s Gospel, ‘The time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’ (Mark 1:15). It is an abiding source of joy on this journey to Easter that we do not go alone.

A third element of the Rite of Election that I like is that I also get to meet the teams of people in our parishes that are supporting people on this RCIA journey. They are many and they are generous. Thank you to them. I would love that each parish had a vibrant RCIA team to foster this great tool of evangelisation.

I said to the candidates that their initiation at the Easter Vigil, which takes place through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion, is not a graduation, and that although the catechumenate actually ‘ends’, the life of discipleship and service continues. The sacraments of initiation mark out for us the basic pattern of the Christian life: death and resurrection. A pattern that is destined to be repeated many times and lead ultimately to the fullness of life, where ‘God will be all in all’
(1 Corinthians 15:28).

This is the same for us all. How the catechumens and then the newly initiated go, so too the rest of the Church. It is a profound insight, yet rather obvious one, that every year we have a Lent. We actually need it, because we can become distracted and think it is only about will and not grace, or only about grace and not about will.

When we leave on a journey we need to know where we are going. So too with Lent.

Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter the ‘feasts of feasts’. It is ultimately an entering into the great Passover of Jesus Christ, true light of the world. It is  knowing that in this faith business, we do not walk alone but walk with the one who has been there and the one who accompanies us, and we walk with others.

At the end of our gathering with the candidates, I said that part of my Lenten prayer is that I would pray for them. Might I invite you too to pray for them and the whole diocese, that as we all approach Easter, and in particular the great Easter Vigil on April 3, it will be with minds and hearts renewed.

God is good, good indeed.


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