By Bishop James Conley
This past Sunday, 35 men and women from parishes in and around Lincoln inscribed their names in the Book of the Elect at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Lincoln.
It was a solemn and beautiful ceremony.
At the Easter Vigil, those men and women will be baptized, confirmed, and receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They will be given new life in Jesus Christ, and become a part of the Lord’s body. They will be forgiven for their sins. They will be filled with the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations in the Lord.
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Pope St. John Paul II wrote that catechumens — those adults preparing to be baptized — will be “immersed with Jesus into his death to rise with him to immortal life. Thus the wonder of the mysterious spiritual rebirth, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is renewed; the rebirth that incorporates the newly baptized into the people of the new and final Covenant, sealed by the death and resurrection of Christ.”
There is, of course, a cost to following the Lord. As catechumens prepare to be baptized, they sometimes face those costs. Some catechumens are misunderstood by their families and friends when they become Catholic. Some lose important relationships. Some must give up long habits of sin.
But they choose to follow the Lord because in him, they find new life.
“Christ encounters [catechumens] in their specific circumstances,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “and calls them to embrace the full truth of love, making whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to arrive at perfect ecclesial communion. The Church accompanies them with a pastoral care that is gentle yet firm, above all by showing them the light shed by the Christian mysteries on nature and on human affections.”
Catechumens remind us that following Jesus Christ entails sacrifice.
Their time of preparation should remind us that each one of us is also called to “make whatever sacrifices are necessary” in order to grow in unity with Jesus Christ, and with His Church.
During Lent, we are all called to examine our lives, and to discern what keeps us from loving the Lord freely and generously. As catechumens prepare to be reborn in baptism, each one of us is invited to new life through the sacrament of penance, and through the Eucharist. Each one of us is called to turn away from our sins, and follow the Lord.
We are each called to ongoing and continuous conversion.
In addition to the 35 catechumens, there were 115 men and women (“candidates”) who have been baptized in either the Catholic Church or in other Christian denominations, but have never embraced the fullness of the faith by in the sacrament of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. They, too, after confessing their sins for the first time and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, will be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. These catechumens and candidates will join men and women from other parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln, and thousands of others from around the world who will be received into the Catholic Church this year at the Easter Vigil.
There is a temptation, at times, for all of us to make a kind of peace with our sinful habits or patterns. To believe that they’re just a part of who we are, that this is the way God made me, and I really can’t change my life. To say that, in our particular case, God isn’t concerned with some of my sinful way of living, that he casts a blind eye on some of things I do. That the Lord just wants us to be happy.
There is a temptation to believe that God wouldn’t really ask us to give up things that make us happy, or comfortable, or secure.
But God wants to make us holy. In baptism, he has given each one of us the grace to become holy, as he is holy. He has given us the grace to love perfectly, and to live in accord with truth. And he desires that we give up sinful habits and ways of living because our sin always keeps us from unity with him. Our sin always keeps us from becoming who we are really meant to be. Our sin always keeps us from living our best lives on earth, and from knowing eternal happiness in heaven.
God wants us to give up sin because he knows, even when we don’t, that our sin can never make us truly happy.
We need to accept that when he calls us to sacrifice something we want, it’s because he knows, even if we don’t, how harmful sin can be.
The catechumens and candidates preparing to become Catholic should remind us that new life in Jesus Christ is worth sacrificing for. And they remind us that each one of us is called to embrace the “full truth of love,” so that we can live in unity with God.
Join me in praying for those catechumens and candidates preparing to be baptized. And join me in asking the Lord for the grace to repent, and for the grace of new life.