Below is the text of the homily Archbishop J. Peter Sartain delivered at the Rite of Election celebrated March 7 at St. James Cathedral in Seattle:
There were many who observed Jesus closely as he went about his business. Some knew him as lifelong friend and neighbor, others as a local tradesman like so many others. Some knew of his devotion to his widowed mother, others of his quiet fidelity to the Law and things spiritual.
One day he left the obscure security of home and trade and began to speak publicly and deliberately of his Father, to beckon others to the realization that something new was happening. He not only told them about this new life, he showed it to them — and many took notice. They found him fascinating, his words appealing, his miracles tantalizing and even persuasive.
They observed hangers-on accompany him on his walks around town and across desert roads to the next towns, and some wondered if it wouldn’t be interesting to actually go on one of those walks with him. Some watched from their front porches, knowing his name but not really knowing him. Some asked their friends if it was worthwhile giving him the time of day. Some simply ignored him as one of a succession of rabbis who had come and gone over the years.
Many admired him. They admired his welcoming demeanor, his smile, his peaceful spirit. They admired his lessons about spendthrift sons and merciful fathers, about seeds sown carelessly and weeds grown stubbornly, about wedding banquets and the hungry poor and about lost things and just judgments. Who could not identify with such colorful stories full of images from lives they lived, people they knew and earth they plowed?
They watched God’s power at work in him: The man who had been blind his whole life could now see, and the man who used to beg by the gate could now hold down a job and feed his family. There were rumors of a little girl who at his touch awakened from death and a friend of his who walked out of the tomb three days after death when Jesus called his name.
It could be a good thing to listen to him, to put into practice some of his lessons, but to accept him without question, to let go of my freedom and my opinions, well, that was another thing altogether.
Many admired him, but only some followed him.
There were those in Jesus’ own day who knew him well and liked what he did and said but never followed him, who never became his disciples. Do we sometimes live as admirers yet hold back from giving him everything? Do we clutch tenaciously, if unwittingly, to our stubborn will or to ways of living opposed to the ways of God? Are we too afraid or too selfish to give him everything and to confess that we have sinned? Lent is a time for us to examine ourselves in that same regard.
For 40 days and 40 nights Jesus fasted in the desert, and in his famished state he was approached by the devil, who boldly attempted to distract him from his Father. No, Jesus replied. “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. … The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Nothing would stop Jesus from doing his Father’s will. Hadn’t he said that doing the Father’s will was his food?
You and I don’t find it any easier to follow Jesus than the countless Christians who have gone before us. But just like them, we can take courage in his unfailing fidelity to us, his patience and his mercy as we strive with all our strength to become true disciples and not just admirers.
Søren Kierkegaard once wrote that an admirer can walk away, because there is no real attachment. As Jesus watched some of his admirers leave him because they found his teaching hard (see John 6:60-71), he thought sadly about what they were giving up. He said to the Twelve Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?”
Lent gives us 40 days in his company to renounce what does not belong to his ways, to abandon everything, resolve again to stay with him permanently, and to allow him to reconstruct us by his grace alone.
Today, you who are to be the “elect” can be at peace knowing that the attraction you feel for the Lord and his Church is real, because it is he himself, through the Church, who has called you. He knows we all have more to hand over to him and that conversion is a lifelong process — and we know that he alone has the words of eternal life.
This Rite of Election is God’s affirmation not only that he has called you catechumens and candidates to be his Son’s followers — but that he has called you to be his Son’s disciples in the Body of Christ, the Church, where you will receive lifelong nourishment in Word and Sacrament. For you see, on Holy Saturday evening, when you are baptized and confirmed and receive the holy Eucharist for the first time, he will give you everything you need to be true disciples the rest of your lives, and all the way to eternity.