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The Catholic rite of spring

The Rite of Election, celebrated at three locations in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe over a two week period, was concluded this last Sunday, March 16, at St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in Albuquerque. A very intimate part of the rite is the presence and acceptance of the catechumens entering the Church by the local bishop, and Archbishop Michael J Sheehan presided at all three celebrations in what may be his last performance of the rite as he begins the sometimes lengthy chore of preparing for retirement.

The process known as RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is actually a serious inquiry and preparation, contemplative prayer, and series of rites, has been going on in most parishes for several months. With the beginning of Lent on March 5, the process moved from inquiry and catechetical study to enlightenment, a time when the catechumen is drawn to deeper reflection and personal growth. It is, in a sense, the same process each and every Catholic should experience during the course of Lent each year.

On what is usually the first Sunday of Lent (although in a diocese such as Santa Fe, two weekends are required to cover the vast expanse of churches), catechumens gather to personally meet the archbishop, listen to pertinent scripture readings and the uplifting encouragement offered by Archbishop Sheehan’s words, and most importantly, to write their names in the Book of the Elect, signifying that they have made the free choice to be baptized in the Catholic Church, and that they have in turn been accepted by the Church. They are no longer called catechumens, but now: elect. This rite is the stepping stone from inquiry to enlightenment.

The mood in St Jude church was spirited even getting to the archbishop, who has always motivated those who have arrived at this point in their journey of faith. Some commented that he seemed more relaxed than usual, and he added a few more anecdotes and humorous stories. Archbishop Sheehan had every reason to be delighted, and it had nothing to do with his anticipation of retirement. He commented in his homily about the large number of catechumens entering the church, and also the number of baptized Christians who have joined them for the celebration of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. The archbishop also pointed out that forty young men of the archdiocese are currently seminarians, a number that this area hasn’t seen in several years. The Church in Santa Fe, founded by missionaries over 400 years ago, is alive and well in New Mexico.

It is no coincidence that the first day of spring falls during Lent every year. The timing of the Gregorian calendar revolves around settings of the moon and the changing of seasons. The beginning of spring signals new growth within the faith community, as well as in our gardens. Those who have begun the liturgical season with prayer, fasting, repentance, and almsgiving are already feeling a sense of renewal, as are catechumens and candidates of RCIA, who have begun to transform what they’ve learned in scripture to the practical reality of their lives. By the love of Jesus Christ, and our returning that love, spring, Lent, March, Election…whatever you like to call it…becomes the time of a renewal and recommitment for all. For the elect, it is a time of experiencing conversion in mind and action.

The three Sundays that follow the Rite of Election are known as ‘the Scrutinies,’ scriptural self-searching based on three incidents in the Gospel of John: The Woman at the Well, The Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus. Each is implemented to draw the elect into the deepest meaning of Jesus’ teachings: Living Water, real vision (wisdom), and the Bread of Life. Like the elect, we are all called to understanding by these lessons.

Although everyone shares the first day of spring and most even like it, there are moments when it seems as though it was all made that way to represent our growth in Christ, where we are called to re-elect to be one with him. Spring is a time of renewal and new growth, and a great time to be a Catholic in New Mexico.

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