Each Lent a thousand miracles take place across the Archdiocese of Washington. Accompanied by catechists, godparents and sponsors, hundreds of men, women and children make a life-changing decision to follow Jesus Christ as members of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Wuerl welcomes these catechumens and candidates at the annual Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, an inspiring celebration of their call to receive the Easter sacraments.
Each one’s path to the Catholic church is a uniquely personal encounter with God’s grace that warms the human heart to choose friendship with God. Each faith journey is nothing short of a miracle.
Last Easter, I had the privilege of serving as sponsor to Frankie, a Yale graduate and young mother, who decided to enter the Church after years of searching for truths to live by. Her perseverance to the Easter sacraments witnessed to the courage of faith. This year, as I watched hundreds of candidates and catechumens make their way to the sanctuary of the Basilica during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, I was struck by the courage implicit in every act of faith. These men and women are powerful reminders of Jesus’ invitation to ongoing, daily conversion to which we are all called.
Soon after the Rite of Election I spoke with Jessie, a young mother of two. Her faith journey began as a child growing up some two blocks from the only Catholic church in the historic section of Beijing, China. Then, while living in Perugia, Italy, she was moved by the warmth and kindness of a Catholic family who invited her to Sunday Mass. Years later, those seeds of faith would be nourished by the parish community of Saint Jerome, Hyattsville, where Frank, her godparent, and a nurturing RCIA team led her to embrace the Catholic faith. “In every Catholic community I’ve known I always felt like I was really wanted,” she said.
Then I had a chance to catch up with Laura, a Latin teacher at Georgetown Preparatory School. She shared that the school community has been, to her, a living catechesis. Laura credits her school colleagues for opening her heart and mind to faith. A turning point came while on a school trip to Rome, where she felt the presence and love of God while praying in a side chapel in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Drawn to faith, particularly by those who lead by example, Laura wants to put her Catholic faith in action rooted in the grace and peace she will receive at Easter.
Catechists, godparents and sponsors play a vital role in the journeys of catechumens and candidates. Like Frank Abbey, who has served faithfully for decades as godparent, sponsor, and RCIA team member at Saint Jerome, Hyattsville. Frank is a “model parishioner,” whose service touches every area of parish life – RCIA, Knights of Columbus, outreach to the homeless, men’s faith sharing, bible study group, and the list goes on. A Catholic community is blessed to have dedicated, selfless parishioners like Frank, whose example encourages each of us to take our place at the table of service to others. They show us that every parish community is itself a living catechesis, and not merely the location where faith formation occurs.
We live in a time when people of faith are often misunderstood, and routinely reviled and marginalized. In many places around the world, just being a Christian qualifies one as a target of discrimination and violence, sometimes to the point of martyrdom. In this country, Christians are not being fed to the lions (at least not yet!), but the forces and values of a secular culture requires people of faith to have the courage of non-conformism.
Faith is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing and daily act of courage, hope and love. As Bishop Mario Dorsonville exhorted the catechumens and candidates at the Basilica in his homily, each one of is called to be a missionary disciple of Jesus, open to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and willing instruments of God’s love, peace and justice in the world.
So much depends on our living witness to faith. The courage of catechumens and candidates who have chosen to walk by faith to the Easter sacraments is a miracle to inspire the rest of us in our daily Christian witness.
Jem Sullivan, Ph.D., serves as Secretary of Education for the Archdiocese of Washington.
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