by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
We are already at the midpoint of Lent when we now celebrate the fourth Sunday of Lent referred to as Rejoice Sunday. The Church refers to the season of Lent as “a joyful time.” It may seem unusual to think of Lent as a joyous time. With its emphasis on penance, conversion, and reconciliation, we may tend to consider Lent in a more somber fashion. Yet all that Lent holds truly is an opportunity for joy and not just in an analogous manner. Coming closer to God by recognizing our need for Him is indeed the most joyful and happiest of experiences.
One occasion that evokes the joyful nature of Lent occurs on its first Sunday when the faithful gather in cathedrals throughout the world to present to their bishops catechumens who will be initiated into the Catholic Church and candidates who will be received into full communion with her at the Easter Vigil. The celebration is called the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion. The catechumens who will receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist are accepted by the bishop, their names are enrolled in a formal manner, and they are referred to as “the elect.” Candidates who have already been baptized in another Christian faith but who will become members of the Catholic Church through their reception of Confirmation and the Eucharist are also formally accepted by the bishop.
I recently celebrated this joyful occasion twice at Saint Ignatius Cathedral in Palm Beach Gardens. Many catechumens and candidates came from different parts of our diocese with sponsors, pastors, RCIA directors, and others from their parishes for these happy events. Once again, we were joined in an action that was celebrated by the entire Church and we manifested the life of the Church here in our Diocese. I am deeply grateful to all who worked with the candidates and to all who did so much to prepare the ceremonies.
If I could use one word to describe the sense that was present throughout these celebrations, it would be joy. The catechumens, the candidates, and all those who came with them were enthusiastic and happy. Those to become members of the Church are well along on their journey and are joyful about that. They have discovered the treasure of faith within the Church, and they are excited with it. Those who are helping them on their journey know what these men and women have found and are happy to share their own faith with them. Smiles were present from all at the Cathedral. These smiles reflected a deep sense of peace in the knowledge that faith in God is a treasure which nothing can replace.
Observing the joyful faces of all those present for these celebrations on the first weekend of Lent, I could not help but think of the words of the Lord, “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (Jn 15:11). Those about to enter the Church have discovered that the message of the Lord does indeed bring joy and that it is good news. Having heard the message and the call of the Lord, they are willing to make a sacrifice to obtain a treasure. Their smiling faces brought also to mind the words of the Lord, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44). Again, the joy of faith is worth the sacrifice.
We welcome those who will become members of our family, the Church, at this year’s Easter Vigil. Their enthusiasm, along with that of those who are assisting them, teaches us a great lesson about the treasure of our faith given to us through the Church. Faith in God is a joyful matter. God did not create us to be unhappy but to share in His very life and joy. We can sometimes lose sight of this and even seek happiness apart from God. Nothing can replace the joy which only faith can bring, because that is the way God made us. Many times, our acceptance of God’s life means a denial of ourselves, and this denial is not always easy. However, we cannot associate that denial as an end in itself, but only as a means to a greater joy. Perhaps it is that false association which causes some people to view faith as a somber rather than a joyful matter. The Lord assures us, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).
As I rejoice in our diocesan celebrations of the Rite of Election and the Call to Continuing Conversion, I thank all those who brought their joy to those ceremonies. They remind us of the treasure we possess in our faith. They also remind us that Lent is a time for all of us to appreciate better that treasure. Indeed, Lent is a joyful season because coming closer to God by recognizing our need for Him is the only thing that brings real happiness.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 25, 2022