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God’s call is ‘not a coincidence,’ Bishop Burbidge says at Rite of Election

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Aaron Crasner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg was one of about 50 future Catholics who gathered at St. Theresa Church in Ashburn Feb. 28 for the Rite of Election, one of the major liturgical steps on their journey to being baptized this Easter. 

“I would say my conversion process was about seven years long,” said Crasner, 27, an aerospace engineer who described his family background as secular Jewish. He met his wife, Katie, a Catholic, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “I was the first Jewish person she’d ever met,” he said. But “I didn’t see much incompatible with our belief systems.” 

He always thought he might become Catholic someday, but now with two children and a third on the way, “I started to think a little more seriously about it. I thought ‘I’m raising these children to be Catholic, and I’d better understand what I’m teaching them,’ ” he said.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge spoke to the catechumens at St. Theresa, as he had Feb. 21 at an earlier Rite of Election at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. More than 107 catechumens and sponsors from 24 parishes were registered to attend one of the two rites.

“If I asked all the catechumens to tell me the story of what led you here today preparing for full initiation into the Catholic Church, I am sure the stories would vary greatly from one person to another,” said Bishop Burbidge. “They might involve a spiritual encounter you never expected in prayer, the faithful people who influenced and inspired you, and personal experiences that have transformed you. 

“But what you all have in common is that you are not here today by some sort of chance or coincidence. You are here because this is God’s plan for you from all eternity. It is his call, the One who refers to you as his beloved son or daughter, his chosen one.”

Crasner attended RCIA for the first time two years ago, but said he still wasn’t sure about being baptized until something dramatic happened about a year ago, during a difficult time at work. “I had a vision,” he said. “I’m a pretty academic and practical person, and I don’t take having a vision lightly. It was real,” he said. “In my vision, I looked into Jesus’ eyes on the cross, and he said, “I’m here for you, and I know who you are.’ I went from being distraught to totally at peace.” A few weeks later, celebrating Easter with Katie’s parents in Michigan, he looked at the very realistic crucifix at the front of the church and was “almost moved to tears.” When RCIA started up again last fall, he went back. 

CHANGES FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING 

Several details of this year’s two celebrations of the rite were adapted to comply with capacity limits and social distancing requirements related to COVID-19. For example, only the unbaptized initiates, or catechumens, attended this year. In past years, the Rite of Election was combined with the Call to Continuing Conversion, for initiates known as candidates, who were baptized in other Christian churches. This year, Bishop Burbidge has delegated the candidates’ celebrations to pastors. Those celebrations will take place at parishes during the early part of Lent.

James Starke, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship, said many more candidates are coming into the church, and while his office has not received the final tally yet, “those numbers are much bigger, and we couldn’t have accommodated that,” he said. 

He added that in a handful of parishes, the bishop also has delegated the celebration of the Rite of Election to priests, “due to circumstances arising from the coronavirus pandemic or other pastoral needs.”

Both catechumens and candidates have been participating in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) groups at their parishes, where they have been meeting weekly since last fall — in many cases on Zoom — to share their faith journeys and learn about the Catholic Church. Children and teens ages 7 to 17 participate in similar groups geared to their own age ranges.

The Rite of Election also is called the enrollment of names, because each catechumen writes his or her name in the Book of the Elect, which is taken to the rite. When the catechumens from each parish were called forward, the book was carried by one catechumen and presented for the bishop’s signature. Instead of shaking hands with each catechumen, as he has done in past years, this year Bishop Burbidge welcomed them from a distance.

“Be assured of the prayers and support that surround you as you continue your preparation and as you grow in your intimate relationship with the Lord and knowledge of the faith we proudly profess,” he told catechumens. 

Bishop Burbidge also spoke to sponsors, family members and friends, noting that the rite “reminds you that you are to inspire our catechumens by your example and by the way you practice your faith. That is not always easy.” 

To accommodate social distancing, sponsors did not sit or stand next to their catechumens this year unless they were spouses or members of the same household. During the Act of Admission, sponsors extended a hand toward their catechumen, instead of placing a hand on the catechumen’s shoulder, as in past years. 

CALL THEM ‘THE ELECT’

Starke noted that the rite is “the point at which the catechumens become ‘the elect’ —  the chosen ones — chosen for baptism by God. They are referred to as ‘the elect’ during the season of Lent. These individuals have been chosen, elected to proceed to baptism, and the next six weeks are their immediate and intense preparation to receive the sacraments.” 

Crasner said the road to baptism this Easter “has been a process for me,” but said RCIA “has been fantastic.” He has appreciated the sharing of the entire group — the parish has 19 catechumens and 27 candidates this year —  but said he has especially valued the participation of the parish priests, who are always willing to provide theological context and explain official church teachings. “That is really helpful,” he said.

Adam Cruz, 25, was one of 13 catechumens from Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria who attended the rite at the cathedral Feb. 21. Cruz said his family was Catholic, but he was never baptized. “It’s been quite a journey, especially considering that it's during the pandemic,” he said. “I’ve gotten closer to God, definitely. I go every Sunday and I feel refreshed.” 

In addition to the weekly RCIA meetings on Zoom, Cruz attends 10:30 a.m. Mass with his group — he goes straight from his job at a grocery chain, where his Sunday shift starts at 3 or 4 a.m. But it’s worth the effort, he said. “Sometimes I hear the readings or Gospel and it’s just what I needed to hear at the moment — it makes my entire week, and I go, ‘This is awesome — it’s not a coincidence.’ ”



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021