Lent is a time when the Church asks us to consider our lives and amend them, “giving up” those things which are an impediment to our relationship to Christ and “adding” or “doing” those things, in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that will enrich our relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. We are called during this time to journey with the Church and with Our Lord to Calvary and to the tomb as we prepare in love and hope to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. Our Lenten journey is important for another reason as well, however.
This is the time of year when we pray in a special way for those people who have chosen, of their own free will, to enter the Catholic Church at Easter. On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday around the Diocese of Knoxville, many catechumens (those who have not been baptized) and candidates (those who have been validly baptized in another Christian tradition) signed the Book of the Elect, signalling that they intend to be received into the Catholic Church at Easter, and that they will receive the sacraments of initiation at that time. Those who need to be baptized will be baptized, and all of those wishing to be received into full communion with the Church will receive the sacrament of Confirmation and receive their first Holy Communion. In addition, before being confirmed, those who were baptized in another Christian tradition must make a public proclamation that they accept the teachings of the Catholic faith:
“I N. believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
If you haven’t heard the recent podcast with our diocesan Director of Communications Jim Wogan and our diocesan Director of Christian Formation Sister Mary Timothea Elliott, RSM, it is well worth the listen. Sister Timothea explained quite well the difficulties faced by some people who are actively searching spiritually and who are willing to accept and embrace the Catholic faith. I can identify with them because 17 years ago, when I was much younger, un married, and still in college, I also came to embrace the Catholic faith. I went through RCIA myself and now assist others in that process through catechesis.
People come to the Church for different reasons, but all of them are on a spiritual journey. Perhaps they began their inquiry into the Catholic faith because a friend invited them to Mass. Maybe they met a “significant other” who interested them in the faith because that person or their family are Catholics and they’d like to share in the faith with that individual. It might be that someone is what we might call “unchurched,” or they don’t come from what we would call a traditional faith background and they have been on a spiritual search of their own, and they have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. Others come to the Catholic faith through a very profound experience of personal conversion. However people find themselves arriving at the Church, it isn’t an easy journey for many of them, especially in our own part of the country where misconceptions, misunderstandings, and untruths about the Catholic faith abound.
Just as every Catholic you might find at yoentur local parish is at different places in their faith journey, people come to RCIA at different places in their spiritual walk, but for those who are open to the working of the Holy Spirit, the process can be a transformative one. Lent is a time of repentance, renewal, and spiritual refreshment for many, but for catechumens and candidates for reception into full communion with the Catholic Church, Lent is that time of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, repentance, and final preparation for their entry into the Church. One thing that I have said in previous years and simply can’t say enough is that those who will become Catholic at the Easter Vigil need the People of God in their new parish communities, including the clergy, to take an active interest in their spiritual and personal development. New Catholics need to be made to feel welcome and included beyond this special time when their presence is more overtly demonstrated to their parish communities. I firmly believe that because holy people around me, including holy laypeople and holy priests, took an active interest in me in my early days in the Church and looked for ways to keep my excitement and love for the faith and the Church burning brightly, that I remain active today (and ultimately in diaconate formation) as a result.
Most of all, our catechumens and candidates for full communion with the Catholic Church need our prayers this Lent, and it will likely help them to know that we are praying for them. In your Lenten prayers, remember those who will soon embrace the Catholic faith this Easter.