February 20, 2018 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

Rite of Election 2018

The following is Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ homily during liturgies at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend, Feb. 11, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, Feb. 18, which included the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.

I wish to extend a warm welcome to all our catechumens and your godparents, and to all the candidates for entrance into full communion in the Catholic Church and your sponsors. Catechumens, this is such an important time in your lives as you prepare to receive the gift of new life in Christ. It is such an important time for those entering the Catholic Church, as your Christian journey has brought you to the fullness of the Christian faith in the Church Christ founded and built on the foundation of the apostles. Welcome to all of you, and welcome to this Cathedral!

Jesus said in the Gospel we just heard: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” Jesus was sent by the Father into a fallen world. He is the shining light that dispels the darkness of sin. Jesus invites all people to believe in Him and receive the gift of eternal life, which the Father offers through Him. Those who believe and receive this gift, Jesus once said, “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus’ presence in the world provokes people to respond. Those who respond positively, Jesus says, “will not remain in darkness.” But a negative response is possible. Regarding such a person, Jesus says: “I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.” Jesus’ work is to save, and He does not damn anyone. Rather, people can condemn themselves by their own actions and their failure to receive God’s word. They can choose the darkness, rather than the light.

Dear catechumens and candidates, you are here today because you have responded positively to Jesus’ invitation. You have chosen the light of Christ and you will make an act of faith in Him at the Easter Vigil. At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the church will be dark. The priest will light the Easter fire outside and carry the light of Christ, the Paschal candle, into the church where the light will be passed to all the people. The church will then be bathed in light. It is a dramatic symbol of the reality that will take place at the Easter Vigil – yes, the light of the Resurrection of Jesus which is celebrated, but also the light of His life that you will receive in the sacraments of initiation.

Some people may ask you, “why are you becoming Catholic?” I love to hear from our catechumens and candidates their stories about coming to believe in the Catholic faith. Every person walks their unique journey, but often, there are similar reasons.

I recently read a book entitled “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too)” – quite a provocative title! It’s written by a young adult who considered himself, like many millennials, “spiritual, but not religious.” Then, as a mechanical engineering student at Florida State University, he began a passionate search for truth. To his great surprise, that search for truth led him to the Catholic Church. In his book, this young man, Brandon Vogt, wrote about how surprised his friends and family were at his conversion. Some were very confused. In some situations, friends and family can even be upset or angry. Brandon writes: “Choosing to be Catholic is provocative. It’s countercultural.” He writes that the reason he became Catholic was the same reason that G.K. Chesterton gave, almost a century ago, when asked why he had become Catholic. In 1922, Chesterton stunned the world by announcing his conversion to the Catholic Church. And this is how Chesterton began his essay on why he became Catholic: “The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” Notice it wasn’t because Catholicism made him feel better or because of his family’s heritage, though these can be factors. The best reason to accept any belief is because it’s true. But being true, it is also good and beautiful.

Truth, goodness, and beauty are what the Greek philosophers called the transcendentals. Brandon Vogt, G.K. Chesteron, and so many other converts came to the Catholic faith because they discovered a convergence of truth, goodness, and beauty in the Catholic Church. Our catechumens and candidates, in their path of life somehow became attracted to the Catholic faith. Was it truth? Was it goodness? Was it beauty? Perhaps one of the transcendentals stands out in your faith journey, or two of them, or all three.

Becoming Catholic is a revolutionary and radical move. Yes, you are all radicals and revolutionaries! Why do I say this?  I often say in talks to our young people at Confirmations that being real Catholics, authentic disciples of Jesus, is radical and revolutionary because the Gospel is radical and revolutionary, especially in our culture today. Here’s what Brandon Vogt says about this: “Catholicism is the only true rebellion left. It’s not rebellious to get drunk, criticize institutions, pursue sex and money, or come out as an atheist. Everyone’s doing that. Those are all mainstream. They’re easy and expected. They may sometimes require a slight bit of courage, but really, everyone is following those paths, swimming along with the current. What’s truly radical is to consider a Church that billions of people have embraced throughout history but millions of people today dismiss as… outdated.” He says that “maybe the Catholic Church looks so backward because everyone else is facing the wrong direction. … Choosing to be Catholic is emphatically a countercultural move.” 

I hope and pray, dear catechumens and candidates, that you will continue to discover the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic faith. I promise you that in the Catholic Church you will find the fulfillment of the deepest desires of your hearts as you open yourselves to the gifts of God’s grace.

My advice to you today is that you continue to pursue truth by studying and pondering the great mysteries of our faith; that you pursue a life of goodness and virtue, especially through works of mercy and love, seeking holiness, following the beautiful example of Mary and the saints; and that you seek beauty. Beauty stirs the soul. Yes, there’s the beauty of Catholic art and music and literature. But there’s also the beauty of spiritual truths that touch us. They aren’t just nice things. They are powerful and can overwhelm us in a good way. The beauty of the liturgy and the sacraments. The beautiful lives of the saints. The beauty of the Word of God in Scripture. And the most beautiful event of all: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our ultimate happiness is in Him, the One who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. He is the light that illumines the darkness. In Him, we find happiness and eternal life.   

My prayer for all of you is the prayer that St. Paul prayed for the Ephesians in the second reading that we heard in this liturgy:  May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, that rooted and grounded in love, you may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God!

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