MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
This is adapted from Bishop Bonnar’s March 6, 2022 homily for the diocese’s Rite of Election of Catechumens and Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates, at St. Columba Cathedral.
In July of 1969 history was made as an American astronaut, Neal Armstrong, descended the lunar module that had landed on the moon and set foot on its surface. With his first step, he said, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
What a beautiful image to capture that historic moment—the image of a step which really after so much research and travel became a leap into the unknown.
My dear catechumens and candidates for continuing conversion in the Church: that image of the step is so appropriate for our gathering today. By your presence here in this mother Church of the diocese you take a significant step in your spiritual life, which is intentional in as much as you are choosing it by responding to God’s call. For it is not you who chose him but he who chose you. It is a step not only onto holy ground but also a step in relationship with others. You do not make this step alone. You are joined by fellow pilgrims from across the six counties of this diocese seeking to continue your journey towards becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
This step is bigger than the first one you took as a baby. It is a step made into the footprints of Jesus as manifested by so many holy men and women in your lives. But it is more than a step: it is a leap, a leap of faith in one God, three persons as well as the Church, which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Throughout these days of Lent the steps will continue as you catechumens walk by faith and not by sight to use the words of Saint Paul.
In the Letter to the Romans, which we just heard, Saint Paul reminds us that this faith is a matter of the heart, but one confesses it on the mouth always with the promise to be saved. There will be moments, however, when the faith will be a real leap. And once you are fully initiated into the faith, the hope and the expectation is that your footprints will become a path for others to follow Jesus.
What makes this step you are taking today so sacred is that the Church welcomes and affirms it. The Introduction of The Rite of Election states, “Thus the Church makes its ‘election,’ that is, the choice and admission of those catechumens who have the dispositions that make them fit to take part, at the next major celebration, in the sacraments of initiation.” (RCIA, 119)
The decision to “elect” these catechumens has been made by God and, during the Rite of Election, the Church makes the choice visible through the rite itself and the presence of the bishop in the Cathedral of the Diocese. This is a moment of great affirmation that should yield confidence in the hearts of the catechumens who, following this celebration, will be known as the Elect, continuing your journey towards full initiation.
As you go forth to continue your preparation for baptism, I encourage you to be present to the scrutinies and to be fervent in your prayer. It is ok if, amid all the excitement, you don’t know what to say. Just show up and listen. Remember, prayer is more than just talking and listening: it is being one with God. Know that God accompanies you in these days. And the message I leave you with is the one that the angels delivered to Mary and Joseph, namely, “Do not be afraid.” Thank you so much for responding to God’s invitation.
To our baptized candidates who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church: you have already assumed responsibility for becoming disciples of Jesus Christ through your Christian baptism. You are here today because you desire to step deeper into a relationship with Jesus Christ by embracing continuing conversion. You know that conversion is a lifelong journey and along that journey you need the grace of the Sacraments, most especially, Eucharist and Confirmation, and oneness with the faith community. We are stronger when we avail ourselves to God’s grace and belong to a community.
Over these next few weeks, I invite you to open your heart to God. On Ash Wednesday, we heard the words of the prophet Joel who said, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” Give your whole heart to God and surrender to him. Like Jesus when he was in the Garden at Gethsemane, let your prayer be one of surrender as you pray his words, “Not my will, but your will be done.” Don’t waste any suffering that comes into your life. Allow it to become an offering to God, producing a sweet fragrance. And let this grace-filled time truly be one of reconciliation with God and others, for there is nothing Jesus desires of us more than we be one. After all, that was his prayer before he left this world, “That all may be one.”
Finally, to all those accompanying our catechumens and candidates for continuing conversion, clergy, lay ecclesial ministers, family members, sponsors, and parishioners: pray for these people gathered here today. Pray that they may continue step by step, leap by leap, toward becoming missionary disciples who will proclaim the Joy of the Gospel. Pray that when they encounter an obstacle, they will embrace it as an opportunity. Pray that stumbling blocks in their path will become steppingstones. Pray that they will always know the love of the Lord Jesus and the presence and support of the faith community. Together, let us pray, “May God who has begun this good work in them may bring it to completion.”