Homily by Archbishop Peter Smith
Saint George's Cathedral
Saturday, 16th February 2013
The Book of the Elect in the Baptistery
My dear brothers and sisters, I welcome you today to this Rite of Election. For those who have not yet been baptised, the celebration of this Rite marks the beginning of the final and more intense preparation for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation; and for those of you already baptised, your entry into full communion with the Catholic Church. The Church encourages us to celebrate this Rite at the beginning of Lent each year because Lent is a preparation for our participation in the most important liturgy of the year – the Paschal Mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the mystery which is at the heart of our faith.
In the reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses spells out the creed or profession of faith of God’s People. It is expressed in terms of the faith of Abraham, who we call “our father in faith”, whose descendants God promised would become a great people, the people of God. Over the centuries that people struggled, and often failed, to live up to their faith commitment, but God never abandoned them. Eventually he promised to send a Messiah, a Saviour who would come and redeem them from their sins and open the way to a new covenant, a covenant sealed for all eternity by his blood. We believe that Jesus Christ is that Saviour; the Son of God who became like us in everything but sin, the one in whom we see made visible, the God we cannot see.
In the second reading this afternoon, St. Paul tells us that we are saved by believing in our hearts and minds in the resurrection of Jesus and in proclaiming that belief on our lips. The season of Lent is given to us by the Church for us to ask God to deepen our faith, to confirm our hope and to make us more generous in our love for him and for one another. And if we are apprehensive about our ability to respond to the challenge God places before us, we only have to meditate on the person of Jesus Christ to receive strength and encouragement on our Lenten journey.
Jesus knew very well what it was like to feel weak and vulnerable and to experience temptation. As St. Luke reminds us, through his own struggle against temptation and his victory over evil, Christ was able to open for us the way to reconciliation with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though he was the Son of God, he was also fully human. So we can be quite sure that he fully understands, and has experienced, the struggle that all of us human beings go through in the process of becoming more obedient to God, because he has gone through that experience himself.
During this season of Lent, the Church encourages you who are to be baptised, and you who are to be received into full communion, to deepen your relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. This is a special “window of opportunity”, so to speak, on your journey of faith. It is a time of grace, a favourable time, when God asks you, and indeed all of us, to open our hearts and minds to his presence and power in our lives. It is a graced opportunity to allow him to mould us more and more into the image and likeness of his beloved Son who is for us the example of what it means to be truly human and a child of God.
You have come to this point in your journey of faith by a variety of different routes; by your own reflections, by the example of others, and through the help, support and prayers of many people. But you know also that the Holy Spirit has been with you, leading and guiding you, often in hidden ways. And it is through the Holy Spirit that God is giving you the gift of faith to believe in him and fulfil that challenge we heard in the liturgy on Ash Wednesday: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
The call to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is the call to follow in the footsteps of him who emptied himself and gave himself to us in total, unconditional love. He is for us the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” And his way was the way of Calvary, the way of the Cross - the way to resurrection and the fullness of life. Paradoxically this way of the Cross is the way of Love. It is the way of the two great commandments: You must love the Lord your God with all your strength and all your mind and all your heart; and you must love your neighbour as yourself. To fulfil these commandments we need the grace of God to change our hearts, and change our lives. That is an enormous challenge because we are weak and sinful human beings much in need of God’s grace and redemption. We wax and wane in our fidelity and enthusiasm in following Jesus. We can easily get distracted and stray down the wrong path. We can go through periods of doubt and disillusionment and feel tempted to give up the struggle. But we don’t travel alone! We travel as a community of faith, a people. We have our priests, our families, our godparents and sponsors to accompany us and give us encouragement when the going gets hard – and there are times when it will be hard, as well as the time when the going is relatively easy and congenial.
My dear catechumens and candidates, today is a very important day for you and those who have supported you thus far in your journey. You have already made great advances on your journey of faith, and today you commit yourself, with the help and support of God’s people in this Diocese, to this final intensive period of preparation. Today you publicly acknowledge that you have been formally called and chosen by God through the Church; and that call confirmed through the Church which acts in his name. So today the Church also makes her “election” of you, choosing to accept you and to admit you to baptism or reception into full communion at Easter.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s call. Thank you, to all those who have helped you and encouraged you so far, and who will, please God, continue to accompany you on your journey towards the joy of Easter and new life. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, never forget the words of Jesus which he will address to you personally in such times: “Courage! Do not be afraid for I am with you until the end of time.”
Be assured of our prayers for you especially during Lent. And pray for us too that we will give you the best example we can of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, sons and daughters of God.