||Andrew Gardner, a seventh grader and catechumen from Sacred Heart Parish in Reedsburg, signs his name in the Book of the Elect as his sponsor, Jessica Wilcox, looks on during the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion at St. John the Baptist Church, Waunakee, February 21. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner) For more photos click here.
WAUNAKEE -- For the catechumens and candidates who came to St. John the Baptist Church on February 21, the journey to becoming Catholic has already been a long process. Throughout the year, and for many much longer than that, they have waded through the minutiae of the faith, packing their survival kit with the traditions and teachings of the Church and building their strength for their future life in the Catholic faith.
But the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, where the baptized and unbaptized seeking reception into the Catholic Church are called forth from their parishes around the Diocese of Madison, is only a stopping point as they enter the final leg of their journey to Easter and the Sacraments of Initiation.
“This is kinda the base camp before we get to the top of the mountain,” Bishop Robert C. Morlino said at the beginning of the liturgy.
And while the summit — Easter and the sacraments that will bring them into the Catholic Church — is in sight, it’s only the beginning of the pilgrimage to heaven. And those on the journey will need the support of the community as they continue.
The Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion is an annual event traditionally held in the Diocese of Madison on the first Sunday of the Lenten season. It brings together the catechumens — those who are as yet unbaptized — and candidates — those baptized Christian and now seeking the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist in the Catholic Church — from parishes around the diocese. In ceremonies at their home parishes, they were sent forth to declare at the rite their intention of receiving the sacraments of initiation and full reception into the Church.
After the Liturgy of the Word, the catechumens are affirmed by their sponsors and the assembly and are called forth to declare their intention to enter the Church, sign their name in the book of the elect, and be blessed by the bishop. The candidates then also are affirmed by their sponsors and the assembly and come forward to declare their intention and be blessed by the bishop.
These catechumens and candidates have been preparing throughout the year with the help of catechists and sponsors as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).
But it is not only the catechumens and candidates who need to prepare for Easter and the sacraments of initiation, but also the rest of the community. The responsibility for the evangelization and catechesis of incoming Catholics rests on those already within the Church.
“I do think it’s important for the community to be involved,” said Clayton Prill, a candidate from Immaculate Conception Parish, Truman. Prill was baptized Lutheran but was introduced to the Catholic faith through his fiancée, Andrea Kaulbach. He is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, so he also has the support of the parishes in Platteville, but the rural parish of Truman has been an important part of his formation, as well.
“It’s a smaller church, so you get to know everybody as more than just fellow parishioners. They help to get us involved,” he said. And the exchange is mutual: for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, for example, his sponsor couldn’t make it, so another parishioner became his “stand-in sponsor.”
Even at larger parishes, there can be a way to bring the greater community into a more intimate involvement. At St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Madison, those seeking reception into the Church are supported in prayer and presence by two sponsors, said Jenny Ludtke, who directs adult formation and outreach at the parish.
“Candidates and catechumens not only have their sacramental sponsors, but also we pair them with someone from the parish who becomes their community sponsor,” Ludtke said. “All along, right through Easter, they have a friendly face at church, meeting them for spaghetti dinners, talks, concerts . . . We try to make the connection in that way, in addition to generally within the parish.”
That support is necessary, even after the sacraments of initiation. A survey conducted as part of the 2000 “Report on the Implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the United States” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops showed that after reception into the Church, 13 percent said they attended Mass more often than once a week, and another 51 percent said they attended Mass once a week.
While higher than the average for Catholics in the U.S., of whom about 36 percent attend church at least weekly according to CARA’s 2009 annual survey, not all RCIA veterans attend Mass regularly after they are received into the Church. Fourteen percent reported going once a month or less, and some indicated that their non-involvement was a result of a lack of activities in their parish, particularly for young families or single persons.
Ready for battle
Joining the Catholic Church takes work.
It isn’t like boarding a cruise ship, Bishop Morlino said in his homily: “You are preparing to board a battle ship.”
Like Jesus, who in the Sunday Gospel had been tempted in the desert by the devil, “You are going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will drive you out into the desert — which means the world — and you will be tempted by the devil,” the bishop said.
Sometimes you will fail, he said. But as time goes on, by the grace of God you will be victorious.
“But we shouldn’t be like the people on the deck as the cruise ship is leaving — gulping down champagne and throwing confetti as if they didn’t have a care in the world,” he said. “Ours is a durable joy . . . it’s not that superficial champagney/confetti joy. It’s the joy of knowing that you are a soldier of Christ.
“The ship is going toward heaven, but it is certainly going to get stuck on the rock of Calvary before it gets there. There is no other way. The ship is going to get battle-worn, but when it gets there, the people on the ship will get a better reception than the people on that cruise ship,” the bishop said.
“Today you want to say, in these last few moments of preparation, ‘I signed up for that — I want to get on that ship. I want the Holy Spirit to change me through Baptism and Confirmation and the Eucharist. I want to sign up. This ain’t no cruise ship, but it’s the only way for me to get to heaven, and I don’t want to go anywhere else,’” he said.