Rite of Election – March 1, 2020
This past November, I was privileged to be in Rome, along with the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for a meeting with our Holy Father, Pope Francis – a meeting that all bishops of the world attend every five years or so.
For all of the notable experiences of that week – especially meeting with Pope Francis – one seemingly insignificant encounter has stayed with me ever since. In fact, I’ve shared this story a few times, even in my homily this past Christmas. It’s one of those rare moments that we all experience that stays with us for a long time – a moment that has the power to teach us a great deal – even if through something very simple and ordinary – if we reflect on it carefully enough.
Most every day while I was in Rome, I found myself walking across Saint Peter’s Square, that great open space in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica regularly filled with tourists, religious sisters, cardinals, shopkeepers, workers … and the poor – beggars looking for a few coins – hoping to find some food – seeking a place to rest. Perhaps some of these individuals had less than noble motives. Most, however, were broken souls, suffering because of want for food, clothing and shelter. The poorest of the poor.
A few times, I placed a couple of coins into the hands of some of these poor individuals, but most often I have to confess that I passed them by – quickly – like everybody else. One day, however, I experienced something that I never expected.
My path crossed that of a young boy, probably around ten years of age, who was quite obviously a tourist traveling with his family. I watched him as he placed a coin in a cup held by a poor, old woman and then quite intentionally paused, looked at the woman and smiled. No words were exchanged, but to my surprise, the woman smiled back.
When I shared this story in my Christmas homily, I did so because for me, at least, that young boy represented the unconditional love of God who reached into our world with the birth of Jesus, offering all of us – every soul in need of love and compassion – salvation and the means to find a life of meaning, purpose and peace.
This afternoon, I share this story with you as a reminder of something else that I learned from that encounter: the extraordinary – and even unexpected ways – in which God works in our lives. … I don’t believe for a minute that it was mere novelty that prompted that young boy to respond to a poor old woman. … While he may not have named it as such, he was responding to a call – God in some way was speaking to his heart. … Even in his young life, that boy was faced with a choice – to simply pass by a suffering soul – or to stop and give life to the deeper call that God extended to him – and to each of us.
Some of you might suggest that I’m overthinking the significance of this chance meeting that lasted for just a few seconds. … Maybe I am. … But for me, at least, God has taught me a great deal from watching the actions of that young boy. … Something was going on in his life that led to such a powerful human encounter. … Maybe he recalled a lesson that his grandparents or a teacher taught him, to give generously to those who are in need. … It’s possible that he just felt sorry for the woman because of the way she looked. … Or perhaps he was simply responding to something his parents wanted him to do at that moment, instinctively trusting in their wisdom and love for him.
Can’t the same thing be said for your lives today? … Like that young boy in Saint Peter’s Square, in some miraculous way known to you alone, you too were given a choice and responded to God’s call for you to be here today. … Maybe your willingness to say “yes” to the God’s call was rooted in something that your family planted in your life years ago. … Perhaps a relationship – with a husband or wife or child – prompted your “yes” to God’s call. … And it’s just as possible that you have simply been searching for something more in your life and have come to believe that God is calling you to find a deeper sense of meaning and purpose as a disciple in his Church.
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, hear the words of Jesus that come to us 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 his calling by his Father in Heaven – and immediately goes forth to proclaim the Kingdom of God through service of the lives of God’s people entrusted to his care.
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 likewise 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 gives 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.