Sunday, February 26, 2012

Forget the Primaries and Oscars -- In the Church, It's "Election Day"

Much as the word "Lent" derives from the Old English for "spring," for this crowd, one of the 40 Days' most powerful signs of new life is upon us again this weekend.

In dioceses around the globe, this First Sunday of Lent brings the Rites of Election -- the local welcomes for the catechumens and candidates for full communion who'll complete their journey into the fold at the Easter Vigil.

Normally, the Stateside church receives some 150,000 new members every year through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a parish-based, usually lay-led effort that's become one of the great all-around success stories of ecclesial life: a labor of love whose volunteer catechists form a significant chunk of the many, many unsung heroes in our midst.

While most of the rites are held in the cathedral of a local church -- often with several editions to accommodate a diocese's full complement of converts -- some places either spread the event out, holding multiple editions across their geographic regions... or, alternatively, everyone's brought together for one Mega-Rite in a secular space big enough handle the crowd.

To be sure, the tide of "Elections" always makes for a day of high spirits and great hope for the road ahead. At the same time, though, the sobering flip-side of today's stats still bears recalling.

According to recent data, for every adult who joins the nation's 70 million faithful, no less than four "cradle Catholics" leave, and now comprise a full tenth (read: 30 million) of the entire American population. Meanwhile, with an estimated 31 percent of those who remain coming to the parish on any given Sunday nationwide, that means close to 70 percent of the Stateside Church -- in other words, a group just shy of 50 million people -- stays home from the Sunday liturgy. (And that's leaving aside a tumble of sacramental rates almost across the board.)

As the throngs of Ash Wednesday almost universally thin back to more typical levels these next few weeks until Palm Sunday, and especially in the context of Lent -- that is, when the church is called back to reflecting on and re-mastering the pure, simple essence of the journey -- something seems to say that this crucial reality needs to be thought about, talked about and, yes, asked about well more, and taken even more seriously, than it already is.

But not even that heady challenge can obscure this Sunday's standing as a day of hope. And so, to any and everyone among us taking the leap this weekend, a thousand welcomes from far and wide -- and, please, just know how much we're all the better for your coming.

Thanks for your "yes," and where it exists, apologies for the mess. As ever, the fridge is stocked, so grab whatever you'd like... and above all, if there's anything the rest of us can do to lend a hand, don't ever be afraid to ask.