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February 21, 2021
[St. Catherine Church, Kapaa (Rite of Election); Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Rite of Election); Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election)]
Many organizations and many cultures have rites of initiation. Almost all of them involve some prior study of the organization’s or culture’s basic principles, and some of them have ordeals the initiate needs to endure to prove his suitability to enter. The person wishing to enter must pass a grueling test. Maybe it is to spend an entire night alone in the jungle, or to climb a particularly steep mountain, or to be tattooed with symbols of one’s genealogy. For a knight it might have been to spend the entire night in a prayer vigil; or for a fraternity pledge, to do something embarrassing or humiliating to serve his brothers in the fraternity. There is almost always a kind of challenge or testing before the door is open for entry.
Today we are celebrating a ritual of initiation, a rite of passage, for those who are to be initiated into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil by receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion. It is the Rite of Election – not an election in the sense of receiving votes from others, but of being selected and designated as prepared to continue their final preparations during Lent. It does not seem too grueling or demanding. They will make a few promises, write their names in the Book of the Elect, and be greeted by the bishop. Then they will be dismissed to reflect further on the Word of God, since they cannot yet participate fully in the Eucharist. There does not seem to be any great risk or any grueling ordeal they have to go through. But do not be deceived by the simplicity of the rite we are about to celebrate. What you catechumens are about to do is the most risky thing you can imagine.
Because on the night of the Easter Vigil, before you are soaked in the saving waters of Baptism, which is prefigured by the flood in Noah’s day which cleansed the world of sin, you are going to make a bold and daring statement. You will be asked, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises?” It will seem so simple, so undramatic. But reflect well on what you are saying. Satan has held tremendous power over every human being in the history of the world, save two: the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was kept free from sin by a completely gratuitous share in the redemption of Christ her Son; and Jesus, who is both a human being and the Son of God. But even though Satan had no power over these two, do not think that he did not try his best to overpower them. For Mary, it was perhaps the doubt he placed in her mind that a human being could be conceived of a virgin, but which she quickly cast out with her “Fiat,” “Let it be done to me according to your word.” For Jesus, it was forty days in the desert being severely tempted by Satan to think of himself first and to forget about his mission of saving us from the power of Satan. This serpent is the most cunning of God’s creatures, deceiving us into thinking he is proposing something good, while all the while leading us into sin and rebellion against God. So to renounce him is not as tame as it might appear. He is a relentless hunter who wants to devour his prey with hellish deliberation. In order to make such a renunciation, you will need a courage no human being can possibly have on one’s own. You will need the power of God himself, and so immediately after you renounce Satan, you cover yourself with the armor of your profession of faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then you are given the extremely powerful armor of the sacraments.
Let us be clear, however, that just because you renounce Satan, you should never think that he renounces you. In fact, the closer you draw to God, the more aggressive he will become in trying to lure you away. But if you stay immersed in the grace of Baptism, in the power of the Holy Spirit given to you in Confirmation, and in Jesus himself dwelling in you in the Holy Eucharist, Christ living in you can help you resist the temptations.
Yes, you will be tempted by the usual sins, as we all are, such as lust, pride, envy, hatred, and laziness. Yet with the help of Jesus you will be able to resist these temptations just as he did. You will be tempted to think that becoming a Catholic Christian is primarily for your own benefit and may want to stay in your comfort zone and keep it all to yourself. But like Jesus – and with Jesus – you will not be diverted from your mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to others. Like Jesus, you will have crosses to take up, some of your own making, and others you do not deserve at all. But if you stay true to this Christian initiation and do not give up, like Jesus you will also be able to overcome all of those crosses by putting your faith in God and God alone.
Do not be fooled by the simplicity of these rites of Christian initiation you will undergo today and throughout Lent. They may seem painless and undramatic, but they will engage you in one of the most exciting dramas in the history of the world, the victory of the cross of Jesus Christ over suffering, death and sin, and the glory of eternal life with God.