Rite of Election

February 18, 2018

Archbishop B. O’Brien

This afternoon, on the first Sunday of Lent, we celebrate the Rite of Election and the Call to Lenten Renewal within this Liturgy of the Word, and the word that we hear speaks to us about who we are and who God is for us.


In the Book of Deuteronomy, from which our first reading today is taken, we see how the faithful Jew offers the first fruits of the harvest to God, reciting the ancient lines of remembrance, “My father was a wandering Aramean…”  This is a reminder that the Israelites’ beginnings were humble; God chose this people not because of its greatness, but because of its need.  They were slaves in Egypt, and they cried to the Lord, who saw their affliction, their toil, and their oppression.  As we begin Lent, we remember what God did for them – how God rescued a people unable to help themselves – and we do so with the conviction that, what God was once able to do, God is able to do again for us.


The story of God’s people, however, has many chapters.  After their liberation from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years.  It was a time of testing.  They were divided in their hearts about God.  They wanted to trust him, but their empty stomachs made them doubt.  The promised land was far away, and their hunger was here and now.  It is against this backdrop of Israel’s testing in the desert that the Gospel passage of today is told.  Jesus is the new Israel; he has spent 40 days in the wilderness; he is hungry and tested – tested to see if he will serve the Father’s plan for Him.


The key to understanding Jesus’s temptations is contained in the prayer that the faithful Israelite prayed, called the ‘Shema’.   It goes like this: “Hear, 0,Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. Dt. 6:4-5 


To love God with ‘all your heart’ means to love with a heart undivided by contrary desire.  The Old Testament people’s craving for food in the desert wilderness divided their hearts from trust in God’s care for them.  Jesus, on the other hand, would not let his craving for food divide his heart from complete trust in the Father’s care for Him.  As he says, “one does not live on bread alone”.


To love God with ‘all your soul’ means to trust God even if you should lose your life.  In the wilderness, the people of the Old Testament were afraid they were going to die of thirst, and they demanded evidence of God’s presence.  Jesus would not ask God to prove his presence by saving Him if he jumped off the temple parapet.  ‘With all your might’ means with all your wealth.  After the Israelites reached the promised land, they were warned that their wealth would cause them to forget the Lord and to worship false gods.  In the gospel, the devil, knowing the allure of wealth, promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would forget God and worship him.  Now while the temptations that Jesus successfully met point back to the temptations of Israel in the past, we can see that they also point forward to the trials that each of us must face.

Each of us in our own lives is subject to temptations that shake our resolve, that threaten our identity as a follower of Jesus and tug us away from our life’s true course.  Yet they have the same effect as what would have happened to Jesus if he had not had the power of the Spirit to resist.  Our temptations may not be as dramatically illustrated as those of Jesus – they may be more ordinary, quiet, and frequent, happening a little at a time.  Yet they have the same effect.  They attempt to steer us off course.  As we go about our daily lives, we are tempted to small compromises, little lies, shortcuts, that have the cumulative effect of taking us away from our baptismal commitment whereby we promised to resist evil in all its forms.


I want to say to the Catechumens that your journey of faith is an encouragement to all of us, because it reminds us that faith is a gift, a gift that Christ continues to pour out on his Church.  The Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults is an invitation to all of us to share in the growth that the Spirit is engendering today in the Body of Christ.


I want to acknowledge and welcome, as well, those who are already baptized and desire full communion with the Catholic Church.  In taking this step, you remind all of us of the importance of the faith community and the help which we receive from the Eucharist and the other sacraments to live our life in Christ.


A sincere thank you also to all those sponsors and members of the RCIA teams who have accompanied our catechumens and candidates for full communion over these last months.

I am sure that you have been of great assistance to them, and no doubt this has helped to strengthen yo