The bishop is the chief steward of the mysteries of God and the overseer of all liturgical life in the Church entrusted to his care. That’s who I am and why I am here with you today in the Cathedral, the Mother Church of our entire Diocese and all its members, the bishop’s Church. The statement that I have just made is derived from the documents of the Second Vatican Council (CD, no. 15) and has its roots in the ancient words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: “It is not permitted to baptize without the authorization of the bishop (Ad Smyrnaeous, 8, 2).”
With me in this Cathedral today are priests and deacons who share with me by their ordination and by my delegation in the various parishes of the Diocese a particular responsibility to assist me in my duty as bishop. Also with me are those who, as ministers, catechists and representatives of these various parishes, also share a particular responsibility to assist me in my duty. As priests we could not accomplish much without them and so I express special thanks. Theirs is the awesome and holy task to prepare those who seek full union with Christ’s Church and to journey with them to baptism, the sacraments and a full Christian life, by witness of their own lives. That is who they are and why they are here.
Also, here in this congregation, are those who are the reason for our gathering in this Cathedral on this First Sunday of Lent: catechumens who, although they are already living the Christian life in many ways, are asking the Church to help them deepen their commitment through baptism so that they may be born anew in its living waters. You are now the “elect” and this is your “election.” That is who you are and why you are here and that is the reason you have brought godparents and sponsors with you.
Together, we are the Catholic Church — the community of the Catholic faith — in its present and future reality.
The name that we focus upon today in this “Rite of Election” is that of Christian, Catholic Christian. The name Christian means “follower of Christ.” It is an important name. It is a significant name. It is your name and carries with it a depth of meaning and purpose and identity.
We live in a time and a world where is it is common to hear that “a religion does not really matter.” It’s more important to be spiritual than religious. There is only one God. Our particular religion, how we call ourselves, how we pray, how we believe and how we choose to live our lives is not as important as simply being “spiritual.” It’s all the same.
But, as common as that feeling might be, don’t believe it for a minute. It is simply not true. If it were true, then what are we doing here on this first Sunday of Lent? Why have we come to this Cathedral? Why have we spent our time and our energy preparing for our full initiation as Christians in the Catholic Church? Why are you asking me, the bishop of this Diocese, to become full members of the Church, the “elect” for the coming feast of Easter? And what are the rest of these people doing here? If a religion doesn’t matter, then we are all wasting our time.
To be a Christian, to become Catholics and to be known by that name and identity must mean something to you who are catechumens. It must mean something to your godparents and sponsors. It must mean something to this community of faith who surrounds you now with their witness and prayers and support. The name of Christian and Catholic is a deep identification of what you believe in — and whom; what you are called to be and, therefore, how you are planning to live in this world. We are called to live and move and have our being in Jesus Christ and in his Church. This is what the name Christian and Catholic means. This is who and what the Lord Jesus has called you to be and to become, every day more and more deeply.
Your name and your identity, as with all of the baptized in the Church, draw from the person of Jesus Christ. You are a Christian who has chosen and has been chosen to remain in Jesus Christ, like branches on a vine, and that name and identity will be enable you “to bear fruit” as scripture says. You believe that without him, “you can do nothing.” In this your Father, your Creator “is glorified” as you “become my disciples.” As good and wonderful as your life has been up to now, your new name and new life in Christ, signal that his “joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” Catechumens, members of the elect, choose now to remain in his love, signified by your rebirth.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. And the Gospel chosen for this Rite of Election is Jesus’ own experience of the desert and the temptations that followed him there. The beginning of the Gospel of Luke tells the familiar story, that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert where he encountered Satan face to face. And yet, Jesus, there in the desert — alone, fasting and in intense prayer — beat back the devil and triumphed over temptation, as strong and as unrelenting as it was throughout those forty days.
My sisters and brothers, we enter the desert of Lent like Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, to face our devils, our temptations head on. But we are not alone. We go with Christ and with his Church and we do so during this special Year of Mercy. Seeking God’s mercy and love, we move through the desert to Calvary and to the empty tomb of Easter. What a beautiful journey it is. And how blessed are you who make it. Our Holy Father Pope Francis chose as his papal motto: “miserando atque eligendo: by choosing and by showing mercy.” As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I choose and call you to Easter and to rebirth.