Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates for Full Communion

22 Feb 2015

Introduction for Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates for Full Communion
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney 22 February 2015

A warm welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral as we celebrate today the Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates for Full Communion. I acknowledge the priests and catechists, those involved in the catechumenate office or the parish RCIA teams, and the godparents and sponsors of our catechumens and candidates. Above all, I welcome the catechumens and candidates, with your families and friends, as you undertake this important step on the road to full initiation into the Church.

It is often said parishes without catechumens and candidates do not fully experience Lent and Easter. Well, bishops without them do not really experience episcopacy fully either. In the ancient tradition, the Bishop took an active part in instructing those preparing for Baptism at Easter. So much of what we know about the catechumenate and what early Christians were taught is from the records of those instructions catechumens received by early Fathers of the Church. So I thank you for this opportunity to be part of your Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates today. 

Homily for Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates for Full Communion
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney 22 February 2015

Periodically, something revives debates about Noah’s Ark and the Flood. There are regular sightings of the ark in Armenia, Kurdistan or elsewhere and the expeditionaries are affectionately called ark-eologists. The Discovery Channel every so often solves the mystery for us and recently, of course, there’s been a major movie. But more interesting was the discovery last year by an assistant curator at the British Museum of a small, light brown tablet, about the size of a smartphone but 4,000 years old. He deciphered the ancient Mesopotamian writing and found instructions on how to survive a flood, by building a boat big enough for your family and for boarding the animals “two by two”. It recommends a ’round’ ark, about two-thirds of the size of a football field, made of wood, rope and bitumen.

Many cultures preserve memories of a deluge and humanity emerging from the watery deeps. Our book of origins, Genesis, reports how God saved Noah from the flood by instructing him to build an Ark of gopher wood smeared with pitch, with three decks and internal compartments, 137m long, 23m wide and 13m high, with a pitched roof and entrance on the side through which Noah’s family and the animals were to enter and keep safe through the looming forty days of rain (Gen 6:15).

St Augustine explains that this story is both historical and more-than-historical, which is why they can still speak to scientific-minded people in twenty-first century Sydney. The community on Noah’s Ark, he says, is the Church “on pilgrimage in this world”, an image taken up by the Second Vatican Council. Its members are saved by wood – not a boat but a cross on which our Lenten Lord hangs. The door of the ark is the hole in Christ’s side made by a soldier’s spear as He died upon the cross. From it flowed water and blood (Jn 19:35), the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist through which Christians are initiated and a new humanity grows.  Through forty days and nights of rain (Gen 7:12, 24; 8:3) – the first Lent – Noah and companions were kept safe, as the ark of the Church secures us today against the floods and storms of life.

In our first reading we heard that after that Great Flood God established a new relationship with mankind (Gen 9:8-15). Noah and his descendants are offered a covenant promising that God would protect and nurture them, a covenant sealed with a rainbow. But as the flood foreshadows Holy Baptism, so this covenant presages another that would come through the saving death of Christ (e.g. Lk 22:20). After forty days in the desert of human existence, amidst barrenness and temptations, contending not just with the elements but with Satan himself (Mk 1:12-15), Jesus emerges on the public stage ready for his public ministry, for proclamation of the Good News and healing of the Bad News, for Lenten death and Easter resurrection. It is once and for all: his new covenant would be a perpetual one, reconciling humanity to God, sealed in the blood and water of the Lamb, and of His sacraments, offered on the ark of the altar and the altar of the Cross.

This new covenant-relationship is for keeps, yet it is not compulsory. It is offered, again and again, but we are free to respond or not. “Repent and believe!” Christ cries out in the Galilee of our hearts. Turn away from the Bad News of your sins and towards the Good News of your salvation. Resolve to do better: to sin no more. Our epistle today shows that from the beginning Christians interpreted Noah’s story as being their own, the story of their Baptism, their being saved in and from the water, saved from sin and for something better (1Pet 3:18-22). But as St Peter observes, some refused to believe and be saved at the time of the Flood and ever since people have been free to embrace the life of water and blood, of the Church and her sacraments, or not.

Lent and Easter call to us again. Elect of God: come forward for Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion. Those already partly initiated or fully so: come forward, too, to renew your baptismal promises. Renounce sin and Satan; embrace Christ and His Lenten path to Easter glory! But first there is that Lenten path. On Wednesday last the ashes on our foreheads told of our mortality and our glimpse at immortality, of our contrition for our sins and our trust in God’s mercy. Now, dear catechumens and candidates, you join Noah and the boys. Now, you join Christ in the desert. You’ve forty days and nights to put away your old selves and ready yourselves for full initiation at Easter. Prayer, penance and charity: these are our weapons with which to confront the reality of sin in our world and in our own lives and to join Christ in contending with the Dominations and Powers.

This week it was reported that 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya by Islamist affiliates of ISIS who have declared their ultimate goal is the conquest of Rome.  Like the burning alive of a caged Jordanian soldier a few weeks ago, this atrocity brought horror and swift retaliation. The endless cycle of violence and recrimination continues in our world, in our own hearts. That must not be so for you, dear catechumens and candidates. As you celebrate today the Rite of Election and the Presentation of Baptised Candidates, as you prepare yourselves for your Eastering, your passage through water and the Holy Spirit to a new covenant of providential love, commit yourselves to an ever-deepening conversion. As you join Christ in the desert in his forty days of trials, know that your own demons, whatever they are, are as nothing compared to the overwhelming power of God’s love. Ask Christ crucified to purge all evil from your hearts and ready them to become braziers in which the Easter fires of faith, hope and love may be lit.

Word of Thanks after the Rite of Election and Presentation of Baptised Candidates for Full Communion, St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney 22 February 2015

Dear catechumens and candidates: my congratulations to you on achieving another marker in your spiritual journey. Give yourselves now totally to Christ in this last period of preparation, formation and pre-baptismal catechesis. I pray that your present desire to know, love and serve Christ in His Church will flourish in post-Easter lives of close connection to Him, especially in your continued involvement in the life of your parishes which will sustain you in the years ahead.

On your behalf and my own I thank our priests and catechists, those involved in the catechumenate office or in parish RCIA teams, godparents, sponsors and families, and all those who have influenced you or accompanied you to this day or will do so in the years ahead. Welcome to the Catholic Church.

1.City of God, Bk XV, chs 26-7. See also Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium 3.