For Brandon Georgia, it was the way he witnessed the Church serving others. For Mark Henderson it was the feeling of hope he experienced at Church during a dark time in his life. For Sheryl Ann Burke it was finding a community that finally felt like home. Each of the 532 people who declared their intention to become Catholic at the Rite of Election on February 14 have a unique story of finding Jesus Christ and deciding to become Catholic.
“The Rite of Election is an epic moment in the faith journey of the catechumens,” explains Dennis Johnson, Jr., secretary for Laity, Family, and Life. “With the testimony of sponsors and catechists, they affirm their intention to join the Church. The Rite of Election marks the entry into the Period of Purification and Enlightenment and it will culminate with the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) at the Easter Vigil.”
During the Rite of Election, parish representatives presented books containing the signatures of the catechumens (those preparing for baptism) to Bishop Noonan. The books serve as a record of those elected each year and a symbol of God’s chosen people.
For Licet Montero-Gonzalez of St. Ann Parish in Haines City it was a moment that has been part of a life-long journey.
“I’ve always been attracted to the Catholic Church without knowing why,” Licet remembers. “After my husband and I lost a baby it was very comforting to go to church. Then when I became pregnant with my daughter I went to the church one Sunday and there was a blessing of pregnant women! The rest of the pregnancy I prayed with the Virgin Mary for my daughter and when I held her in my arms for the first time I felt such joy. It was like everything suddenly became true – the prayers and belief. I had the result in my arms.”
Rhiann John, a high school sophomore, also turned to the church during a difficult time. At sixteen years old, Rhiann has already undergone two rounds of chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of cancer. During periods when the treatment left her weak and feeling sick she did not think she would survive but she found comfort at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud.
“I think an experience like this either brings you closer to your faith or takes you farther away,” says Rhiann. “For me, it brought me closer, and I’m so glad it did!”
Like many others, Gonzalez and John came to the Church through an experience of God’s love and mercy. It is the gift that Bishop Noonan hopes the elect will come to understand more than anything else.
“As Christians we are called to celebrate love and share it with each other every day,” Bishop Noonan explained in his homily. “We remind ourselves that God loves us every day of our lives. Not just when we are good or saintly but also in moments of fear, when we are afraid, when we are lonely – God still loves us.”
During the remaining days of Lent, the elect will enter the Period of Purification and Enlightenment, a time of reflection intensely centered on conversion. It is intended to purify the minds and hearts of the elect as they search their own consciences and do penance. They will focus less on catechetical instruction and more on interior renewal as they prepare for the Sacraments at Easter.
“Lent is a time to focus on the most important things in life,” said Bishop Noonan. “For 40 days let us above all try to open our hearts, to let the love of God into our hearts and to let the mercy of God into our hearts…. Make it a time to experience the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s love and mercy.”