Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Rite of Election – March 10, 2019
March 10th – today – is my father’s birthday. He died fifteen years ago. Had he still been alive, he would have turned 95 today. … I think of him today not only for the obvious reasons, but because of something that he once told me that I, in turn, have associated with this day on which we celebrate the Rite of Election – this day that is such a singular moment in your journeys of faith.
A way back in the summer of 1976, when I was mid-way through my college career at the University of Pittsburgh and discerning what I wanted to do with my life, I spoke with my mother and father about the thoughts emerging in my mind and heart about becoming a priest. This conversation took my parents by surprise. They listened to what I had to share in silence and then they eventually spoke.
I was touched by what my mother said, “We just want you to be happy in whatever you do with your life.” … My father, however, shared these words that not only spoke to me, but I believe speak to each of you in a powerful way today. “If you believe this is what God is calling you to do, then you have to do it!”
“If you believe this is what God is calling you to do, then you have to do it!”
For me, during the summer of 1976, some 43 years ago, I believed God was calling me to ministry in the Church. But much more fundamentally, in the midst of my discernment which took some time, I believed and knew in my heart that God was calling me to a relationship with his son, Jesus. All of the truths and teachings of the Church would follow. The challenge to embrace a moral life and the law of charity – of love – would require a life-long commitment on my part. The invitation to walk with Jesus, however, to embrace his life with his promise of unconditional love and salvation, seemed to demand an immediate response on my part – a response which I gave and which filled me with peace.
That same call – that same invitation of Jesus – is addressed to each of us in our cathedral this afternoon – and especially to you, our catechumens and candidates for full communion in the Church.
When Jesus initially engaged his disciples, his first word to them, consistently throughout the gospels, is “come.” … “Come – follow me.” … “Come – and I will make you fishers of men.” … “Come – and believe in your heart that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.’”
There will be a time in your journey of faith – as there is in all of our lives – when Jesus will send you forth on mission to proclaim the good news that has brought you here today. He will use another simple command, “Go!” … “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.” … For now, however, it is enough for you to revel in his invitation – in Jesus’ call – to “come” and follow Jesus – to embrace his life and love.
This has been a challenging year for Catholics and, no doubt, for many of you. I would imagine that some of you have wondered about this Church – this community of believers – into which you are welcomed today. You should! It hardly seems to be the type of community that Jesus intended to leave behind after his death and resurrection. Perhaps some individuals have even challenged you in your decision or have gone so far as to ridicule you in your choice. Yet, while at times we may be consumed with the broken, fragile lives that seem to fill our Church, the call to which you respond today is rooted in something far more sacred and holy than you might imagine or believe possible.
Yes, the call may be related to a seemingly ordinary life event like an impending marriage – the birth of a child – or the restlessness of your heart as you look for meaning and purpose in your life. … The initiator of this call, however, is none other than God!
So cherish this moment and hold on to it throughout your lives. The great miracle that we celebrate today is that for all of the brokenness and sin that at times seems to consume our Church, Jesus is still its beating heart, casting out the evil that at times overwhelms us, as we heard in today’s gospel passage, and leading us all “out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9).
This day, 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. My sisters and brothers – dear catechumens and candidates – 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. Through the touch of your godparents and through the affirmation of the Church gathered around you in this sacred cathedral, God calls you forth to walk with him in faith. … The initiative is God’s. The necessary response is yours.
You do today what all who have pledged their lives to Christ have done through the ages. You begin a journey of faith. In response to God’s call, you say yes to Christ. But in so doing, you not only affirm his presence in your life. You commit 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. Your election this day to become a part of the Church – to call yourself a Catholic Christian – does not merely result in membership in an association that seeks to promote a certain cause. To the contrary, it is a reason to celebrate. 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.