Rite of Election

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Rite of Election
St. Mary’s Cathedral, 26 February 2012

In the Gospel passage today, we have heard those famous words of Jesus in chapter 3, 16: “God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” It is one of the most famous and frequently quoted passages in the Gospels. You may have seen people on television holding the placard with the numbers 3.16 written on it. That refers to the Gospel passage for today.

Some of you may also remember that on the occasion of the Opening of the Sydney Olympics, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, with the word “Eternity” emblazoned across the side of it. 4 billion people must have wondered what was the story behind such a gesture.

For many years, no one knew who was responsible for the word Eternity being written with chalk on the footpaths of inner Sydney. But eventually it emerged that for 37 years, a man named Arthur Stace, got up early each morning, and after an hour of prayer and reflection, he headed off to a different location in the city, where he wrote the word Eternity on the footpaths, using coloured chalk, at intervals of 100 metres. Overall he did it over half a million times. The letters were formed very evenly and very beautifully, even though Stace could barely read or write.

In his early life, he had gravitated around inner Sydney hotels and brothels, he was convicted of petty theft, and he was for a number of years an regular metho drinker, but all that changed when he went into St Barnabas Church in Sydney where he could get some food. Before the food was distributed however, there was a time for prayer and reflection.

In the church he noticed six people, all quite well dressed. He asked a mate sitting next to him who they were. The mate said “I reckon they would be Christians” Arthur Stace thought he would have a go at doing what they did. He got down on his knees and prayed, and his life was changed forever. He later heard a preacher say how he wished that he could shout the word Eternity through the streets of Sydney. So Stace decided to do his bit to help.

Generally when we use the word election, we think of a contest – between rivals, vying for the preferred position. But in this instance, during the Rite of Election, we use the word in a very different way. The ceremony today is called election because the acceptance of you, the catechumens and the candidates, is founded on the election of God, in whose name the Church acts. God so loved the world that sent us His only Son, to give us a chance to enter eternity.

It is the case of the Church, with a human voice, expressing the call of God to which in a very significant way, you have all responded. By having your names written in the Book of the Elect, it means that you have heard God call your name and you wish to respond to that call.

Once the call has been heard, there is a place for continuing conversion, and that is something that involves each and every one of us, at every point in our lives.

I wish to acknowledge the assistance that you, the participants in the Rite of Election, have received from the members of your families, the priest and religious in your parishes, the catechists, and those who have arranged for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to be followed through in the various parishes. In some places there is a very strong tradition associated with the RCIA and it has meant that there has been a steady flow of new candidates every year.

I also wish to thank the RCIA Co-ordinator for the Archdiocese, Ben Brooks, for the work that he has done in assisting parish groups, and in planning for this special occasion again today.

Over the course of recent months, you, the candidates have participated in a process in which you have become familiar with the teachings of Jesus, as expressed through by the Church; you have also become familiar with the way in which the Church celebrates, giving praise and thanks to God; and you have become familiar with the particular ways in which we are best able to respond to the teachings of Jesus by the way we live our lives.

Today you move into another phase, one of “purification” and “enlightenment”. It will be a time to join with all of us as we look within our own hearts, and see where there are possibilities of change and conversion before your very special day comes, mostly likely during the Easter Vigil.

That will be the moment for some of you, when you are baptised, when you will become truly those who God has chosen, to be followed by the further gifts of the Sacrament of Confirmation, and then the most wonderful gift of all, that of receiving, together with all the community, the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I look forward to seeing many of you back here on the night during Holy Week when the Oils are blessed, oils which will be used when you finally come forward to be baptised, and to become fully participating members of the Catholic Church