In Your Midst

School for the Soul

Easter 2011

Preparing for Easter with Our Elect 

The last weeks of Lent are an intense time for our Elect.  For months—in some cases, even years—they have been preparing for their baptism at the Easter Vigil.  They have studied and prayed, learning about the Catholic Church, what it believes, what it teaches; and along the way, they have been learning what it means to be a part of a Christian community.  They learn to listen respectfully to one another, to pray with one another; and they encounter—many of them for the very first time—the way God works in each person’s life differently.  The year-round RCIA process allows time for asking questions, for exploring, and for making choices, with God’s grace.  “It’s like school—but school for the soul,” one recently baptized adult has said.

But during these last weeks, the Elect aren’t asking questions of their teachers, but of themselves.  And these answers cannot be found in books!  In these last weeks of preparation, and especially during the Scrutinies, celebrated on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, our Elect look inward.  During these intense weeks, the Elect ask themselves questions they have never confronted before.

On a Wednesday night in the weeks leading up to Easter, Cathedral Place is brimming over with activity as catechists and sponsors, the Elect, and new inquirers, crowd into the packed classrooms.  It’s a mixture of the mundane and the sublime:  announcements about paperwork to be completed, events in the parish, and even the details of a cookie and punch break midway through the evening—give way to an intense study of the story of the man born blind, and the questions it raises.

Helen Oesterle, Director of Religious Education, invites the Elect to put themselves in the company of all those who have gone before them.  “Since the second century, this story has been part of preparation for baptism.  Imagine all the people, living and dead, who are part of that tradition, who share this with you.“  The Gospel is read and all listen quietly.  Then Helen invites them to reflect:  “How does this story relate to baptism?  What does it say to you?”

“He goes and cleanses himself in the river—that is a baptismal image.”

“There is a progression in how he sees Jesus:  first he calls him a man, then a prophet, then Lord.”

“Like the Samaritan woman, in the end, the man born blind goes around confidently speaking about God.”

“I grew up acknowledging Jesus, but it was just an idea; I never felt a divine connection.  I never truly understood what divine meant.  Where I am today I never thought possible.  I needed the time to wrap my head around it.  The story of the man born blind reflects my own experience:  he needed time, too.”

“It’s interesting how people have to come to the blind man—whom they despise—to ask about Jesus.  They keep asking the same question over and over, as if looking for a different answer.”

Helen suggests:  “In John’s Gospel, the ones you don’t expect, get it; the ones you expect to get it, don’t.  I think all of you are proof that this is still the case. You get it!”

The group goes on to discuss the themes of physical and spiritual blindness in the story.  Helen asks:  “What happens when we think we see?  When we think we know?”

One of the Elect asks, “What about when we—the Catholic Church—are the oppressor?”

After a lively discussion, the Elect break into small groups and continue to reflect.  They are invited to discern their “blind spots”:  “Are there opinions that you don’t like to have questioned?  What do you become most defensive about?  What is it about yourself that gets you into the most arguments or makes you create all kinds of excuses?”  The Elect are also invited to think about the sins of the community, asking tough questions: “In what ways do we allow ourselves to be blinded to the truth? In what ways can an entire society be blinded to the truth?”

Taking the time to discuss and explore these questions is a life-changing experience for the Elect.  It prepares them for baptism as they begin the make the life changes that will be necessary for them to follow Christ as his disciples.  They let down their defenses and are opened up to receive God’s grace in new ways.
The whole parish community assists in this process at St. James Cathedral, as we pray for our Elect during the weeks of Lent.  The aspirations of the Elect are beautifully expressed in the “Book of the Elect,” filled with the prayers and pictures of those preparing for baptism.  “I pray for protection, courage, and most of all, mercy.” 

“I ask prayers for strength, balance, knowledge, humility, and peace.”  “As I approach baptism, I hope to learn and grow to become an example for my family.”  “I am hoping for a better understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic way of life.”  “I pray that God will guide me toward a life of purpose, service, and sacrifice in all that I do and that God will use this opportunity to make me into a better man and better disciple.”

As one of our Elect wrote: “My greatest hope is to be more than ready to open my heart to receive God.”  That is indeed our prayer for you, our Elect!

Maria Laughlin is the Director of Stewardship & Development at St. James Cathedral

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