Stepping toward full communion with the Church

People seeking Easter Sacraments gather with Bishop McKnight in Cathedral for Rite of Election, Call to Continuing Conversion


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Now is a very acceptable time.

A time like no other.

“It’s time for me to do what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Julia Parker. “And I need support now, and I find comfort in the Church and in God.”

Ms. Parker was among the 76 catechumens and 121 candidates from all over the diocese who traveled to the Cathedral of St. Joseph as part of their preparation to receive Sacraments of Initiation at Easter.

It was the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.

Held in cathedrals throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, this ritual is a significant milestone for those preparing to become committed, active members of the Catholic Church.

“You have been sent by your parish community to this special celebration in which the bishop personally and formally accepts you as members of the Elect and Candidates for the Easter Sacraments,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight told the assembly.

Catechumens, now known as the Elect, are seeking Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Candidates have already been baptized and are seeking full communion with the Church.

As part of the gathering in the Cathedral, each catechumen and candidate was summoned by name into the sanctuary and greeted by Bishop Mc­Knight.

Godparents stood beside the catechumens, and sponsors stood beside the candidates as they answered the bishop’s questions and received his blessing.

Ms. Parker was delighted to be there, but a jolt of anxiety that morning almost kept her from attending.

“I just felt nervous,” she said. “I felt a little scared, a little sick to my stomach.”

She took that as a sign “that I need to go more than ever.”

“The fact that something’s telling me not to go, my negative thoughts — it was like ‘I need to go, I have to push myself to go, this is right, this is where I need to be,’” she said.

“And here I am.”

She did not belong to a faith community while growing up, but a Catholic friend often had her stay over on Saturday nights, and she would go to Mass with her friend’s family.

“I didn’t really decide that I wanted to become Catholic until college,” Ms. Parker recalled. “It just never worked out.”

The end of her marriage rekindled her longing for connection.

“And my friend who I used to go to church with brought me to Mass with her again,” said Ms. Parker. “It was the first time in months that I had felt peace.”

She recognized that peace as a gift and a sign from God.

She talked to her friend and her friend’s mother and to Father Joshua Duncan, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Fayette and St. Mary Parish in Glasgow, as well as several Fayette parishioners — “and I just felt like it was time,” she said.

Since then, she’s been learning to trust in God and to know that he will make all things right in unimaginable ways.

“God is so amazing!” she said.

Seizing the moment

Bishop McKnight noted that for many, this milestone has been a long time coming.

“Perhaps there are members of your family or among your circle of friends who have been thinking about and praying for this moment,” he told the candidates and catechumens.

“So, to all of them, we owe a debt of gratitude for helping YOU be one of US today!” he said.

David and Shannon Jennings and their two children are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil this year in Holy Family Church in Hannibal.

“I believe it’s God’s calling for us,” Mrs. Jennings stated. “It’s been quite a journey.”

She said she and her husband had tried living their lives “every which way except the right way.”

Mr. Jennings said he grew up “in a spiritually bankrupt situation.”

“So, as I got older and I had a family, I felt more and more drawn to something that’s bigger than me — to run God’s race!” he said.

Father Matthew Flatley, former pastor of Holy Family Parish and St. Joseph Parish in Palmyra, hired Mrs. Jennings to work at the Hannibal rectory.

She stayed on when Fr. Flatley was transferred and Father Alexander Gabriel became pastor.

He began gently encouraging her to become Catholic, get active in the parish and show their children how to do the same.

“One thing that we were missing” she recalled, “was having faith in each other, with God always right there with us.”

With a little convincing, the wife and husband were fully on board.

“The more I got talking with my family, it was like: this is our time. It’s time to come,” said Mrs. Jennings.

She described the initiation process as “a beautiful thing that we get to experience together — and knowing that God and everybody around here does love us, and that’s what it’s about.”

Mr. Jennings looks back and rejoices in the victories God is winning in and through him and his family.

“There’s just been this outpouring of love and this extra attention from the Holy Spirit!” he said. “That’s something I want my kids to learn by experience. It’s not something that you can learn by just opening a book.”

“I feel like I belong here!” he added.

Planting a legacy

Samantha O’Brien and her three children are excited about the Sacraments that await them at Easter.

Samantha’s husband, Nick, is her sponsor.

“I just feels like now’s the right time,” said Mrs. O’Brien.

The couple met and got married while both were serving in the U.S. Navy.

They had both returned to civilian life before moving from Idaho to Missouri with their children two years ago.

Mr. O’Brien was raised Catholic but had become lax in practicing his faith.

“I never stopped praying and communing with God,” he noted, “and I would receive the consolation and encouragement that I needed to calm my fears in that moment.”

Mrs. O’Brien did not belong to a faith community while growing up but got baptized as an adult by a Navy chaplain in an interdenominational chapel.

Mr. O’Brien returned to practicing his faith about a year ago.

He wanted his children, like him, to be able to turn to God and know God’s love and care for them.

“We noticed that as our kids were getting older, we started having worries about fighting and getting down and depressed on themselves,” he said.

“So we tried our best to make some changes in their lives and do some things to try to help them,” he stated. “And nothing did.”

The couple talked about getting back to church and introducing their children to the faith.

“Giving them something to look forward to and also being able to pray and be a part of something bigger — I think all of that has made a difference in how they treat themselves and others,” said Mr. O’Brien.

He invited his wife and children to go to Mass with him.

Mrs. O’Brien remembers how bright and beautiful the church was.

She remembers thinking: “This is so open and so nice. It feels like I want to be here. I can see myself coming here and doing more.”

Together, Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien and their children now attend the Monday night gatherings of candidates and catechumens at St. Pius X Parish in Moberly.

“I really appreciate and enjoy the community,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “And being around likeminded people is really nice.

“Especially being new to Missouri and not knowing many people yet, it’s really great to go in and have people introduce themselves to you and talk about the rites. It’s wonderful!” she said.

“If you have questions, you can ask them,” she stated. “You’re not treated like you should already know this stuff. And it’s a huge opportunity to make the decisions that you feel are right for you.”

Led by example

This year’s Rite of Election was the first to be held in the Cathedral of St. Joseph since its substantial renovation and expansion in 2022-23.

“It was lovely to host everyone back in the Cathedral,” said Father Stephen Jones, pastor of the Cathedral Parish.

“It’s a visible reminder that the cathedral church is everybody’s church in the diocese,” he stated. “When people travel here from their individual parishes and come together in the Cathedral, it points to our unity and our common identity.”

The candidates and catechumens have been preparing for months — some for even longer — for Sacraments of Initiation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

The RCIA is a restoration of the catechumenate, the communal process through which people were prepared to become Christian in the early Church.

During the Rite of Election, Bishop McKnight accepted the catechumens’ names into the Book of the Elect and urged the catechumens and candidates to spend the rest of Lent pursuing repentance and deeper conversion with the support of the Church.

The Book of the Elect is now on display through Lent in the Baptistry of the Cathedral.

“God is always faithful to those he calls,” the bishop told the catechumens. “Now it is your duty, as it is ours, both to be faithful to Him in return and to strive courageously to reach the fullness of truth, which your election opens up before you.”

In his homily, the bishop likened these final weeks of preparation to the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert before embarking on His public ministry.

“This period of purification and enlightenment prepares your soul by clearing from it all the enticements and attachments to sin, so that you can open yourselves up completely to the will of God and the gift of His Holy Spirit,” he stated.

The bishop said the entire local Church welcomes the candidates and catechumens and rejoices with them along their journey.

“Most if not all of you want to become Catholic because of a Catholic you have encountered in your family, at work, or in your community,” the bishop noted.

“You saw something good in them, you saw something beautiful that you wanted for yourself,” he said. “And this is what we celebrate as the Local Church: that you have encountered God in this world because of a Catholic’s good example.”

The bishop said he’s confident that the witness of faith won’t end there.

“We celebrate that you, too, will become another light of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Jesus’s love,” he stated. “And we look forward to you experiencing the joy of receiving Holy Communion for the first time at this Easter Vigil.”

Praying together

Mrs. Jennings asked for prayers “for us to continue to open our eyes and ears to the good things that are waiting for us as long as we keep our hearts open to them.”

Mrs. Jennings also asked for prayers for her children — “that they can see the good that Mom and Dad are doing, fight the good fight always, and always know that the Lord is right here next to them.”

Ms. Parker asked for prayers for an increase in understanding, courage and strength “for me and my children.”

She’s proud that her two sons get to see their Mom “be strong and independent and do what needs to be done.”

The older one, who’s 7, is already talking about wanting to become Catholic like his Mom.

She’s hopeful that the witness she’s giving by pursuing initiation into the Church and getting active in her parish will help inspire friends who have fallen away to return to their Catholic faith.

“One friend in particular who was raised Catholic and actually left the Church — I think by watching me go through what I’m going through and building my relationship with God, she’s felt a calling to get closer and build her relationship again,” said Ms. Parker.