Rite of Election – February 26, 2023 

Many of you have heard me reflect often upon life-changing events that I was fortunate to experience during a visit to Ghana, Africa, last August.  I traveled to there to meet and thank the Bishop of the Diocese of Sunyani, its clergy and the families of the eight priests and one religious sister who have been serving the people of our diocese for several years.  Some of them you know quite well from your own parishes.  A few of them join us today for this Rite of Election.

It was a powerful experience for me and the priests of our diocese who joined me as we as we prayed with the people of that local church and visited their parishes, hospitals, clinics and schools.  I was particularly moved by the times when I was privileged to celebrate Mass with the faithful – from small groups to one gathering of over 15,000 faithful people who participated in a weekend-long festival of prayer.

One ritual that was a part of most every Mass I attended moved me more than all the others.  At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist when we typically bring to the altar our monetary gifts for the support of our Church and the simple gifts of bread and wine that will become for us the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus – the faithful in Ghana – and I’m told in most African countries – bring gifts for the poor to the altar.  They bring whatever they have to provide for those who had less fortunate than themselves.

As such, it was not uncommon at large gatherings for fifty to a hundred or more worshippers to come forward with all sorts of gifts – from bottled water to bags of rice to paper products.  But it was often the case that those who appeared to be poor themselves would bring forth vegetables from their gardens, bowls filled with eggs from their flocks, and even live chickens and ducks.

I asked one of the priests if this ritual was an expectation of certain groups of parishioners for special gatherings.  “No,” he said.  “They just give what they can give whenever they are able to do so!  They give because God speaks to their hearts.  They believe that God is calling them to do something and they respond.”

I share this experience with you this afternoon as a reminder of something that I’ve learned throughout my journey of faith as a priest, a bishop and particularly from the encounters with the people of Ghana that I just described.  God is constantly speaking to our hearts – sometimes in extraordinary ways – and most often unexpectedly in the ordinary events of our lives.  …  The kindness of those faithful souls who shared from their meager possessions wasn’t done out of some sense of obligation or ritual expectation.  No, God was speaking to their hearts and they were listening.  Maybe they recalled lessons they were taught by their parents or pastor to serve the vulnerable in their midst.  It’s possible that they were the recipients of such kindness at a vulnerable time in their own lives.  Who knows?  …  All that was obvious to me was that they were responding to a call to do more for God’s people – to be more than they imagined that they could be. 

Can’t the same thing be said for your lives today?  …  Like those generous souls who listened to the voice of God, you too are being called by God to be here today – to enter into a relationship that has the power to save you for the brokenness of this world and to give you meaning and peace – to do more for God’s people – and to be more than you imagined that you could be.  …  Perhaps your willingness to say “yes” to the God’s call was rooted in something that your family planted in your life years ago.  …  Maybe a relationship – with a husband or wife or child – prompted your “yes” to that call.  …  And it’s just as likely that you have simply been searching for something more in your life and have come to believe that God is calling you to discover the fulfillment of your deepest hopes as a disciple of his son, Jesus.

Sisters and brothers, God works in incredible ways – most often in seemingly insignificant and unremarkable persons and events.  Every one of the stories that have brought you to this day gives evidence of that fact.  Regardless of how God has chosen to work in your life, God is speaking to you mightily this day! 

Today, then, as never before, listen to the words of Jesus from Saint John’s Gospel on the very night before he died, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” 

My friends, today, you are called by God.  Your name will be spoken.  Your name will be heard.  And your name will be written in the Book of the Elect.  As he has done since the beginning of creation, God places his hand on your shoulders today and chooses you to participate in his Kingdom.  …  The initiative is God’s.  The response is yours. 

In today’s Gospel passage from Saint Matthew, we hear of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert.  Implicit in this passage is the story of Jesus’ own life determining choices.  Jesus confronts the temptations posed – says “yes” to the call of his Father – and immediately goes forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God. 

Like Jesus, through your “yes” to his call, you also begin a journey of faith.  In so doing, you are not only affirming his presence in your life.  You are also committing yourself to embrace his example of service and selfless love.  

Undoubtedly, as it was for Jesus, the journey that you begin today will have its challenges.  Yet, one thing is certain.  As Pope Francis has said so often, being a Christian leads to “joy  …  the joy of faith – the joy of having encountered Jesus – the joy that only Jesus gives us – the joy that leads to peace.”

May each of us, in whatever place along the journey of faith we find ourselves, give thanks to God this day for the gift of Jesus and his saving grace.  …  May you, our candidates for full communion in the Church, open your hearts to the Holy Spirit and to the power of Jesus who will fill your life through the Eucharist.  …  And may you, the Elect in our midst, boldly proclaim your faith in Jesus as you inscribe your names in the Book of the Elect and take you place with all of your sisters and brothers – young and old – rich and poor – saints and sinners – who have been called by God and chosen as his own this day.