I clearly remember the day my sister Mary was born. It was May 1, a Saturday, and I was in the eighth grade. I was scheduled that day to take a bus to the Catholic High School I had hoped to attend in order to take an entrance exam. I was nervous about whether I would be accepted.

When I looked out the window, I was surprised to see snow on the ground. A late spring snowfall was not a good omen. When I got to the kitchen to have breakfast before heading out the door, I found my father waiting for me. He announced that I had a new baby sister, born early that morning. Suddenly, all my concerns disappeared in the joyful realization that our family had grown.

This is the feeling I experience at the Rite of Election when, every year at the beginning of Lent, we welcome into our family those in the RCIA process (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) who will become Catholics through baptism and/or confirmation at the Easter Vigil.

This year, we had two gatherings for this ceremony on the first weekend of Lent. Saturday evening, we gathered in Soldotna at Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the parishes of the Kenai Peninsula. On Sunday afternoon, there was a second gathering at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for those of the Anchorage bowl and the Mat-Su Valley.

It is important to clarify that there are two different groups of people preparing to enter the Catholic Church through the RCIA process: the catechumens, who are not baptized, and the candidates, who have been validly baptized in another Christian community. Following the recent Rite of Election, the catechumens are now called “The Elect” until they are baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. The candidates will not be re-baptized, but will make their profession of faith, be confirmed and receive the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

The words of the church’s liturgy the first Sunday of Lent, and especially the Sacred Scriptures, give an encouraging message. Moses, in the first reading from Deuteronomy, reminds the people to remember who they are. By annually reciting their history, “My father was a wandering Aramean…” they are reminded of their identity. That memory of their relationship with God, who chose them as his people, helped them remain faithful to God through a difficult history. Likewise, in the Gospel of the temptations, Jesus is mindful of his identity and so resists Satan. The Scripture readings of the Rite of Election continue this theme, reminding us of God’s promise to renew us internally, a renewal that Jesus assures us we participate in through baptism. (John 3:1-6)

This theme of being chosen and “owned” by God encourages all of us on our journey of faith, especially candidates and catechumens. Thus, I always find this celebration of the Rite of Election to be affirming and joyous as we prepare to welcome new members of our faith community.

The numbers of those joining us is both an encouragement and a cause for gratitude, with over 100 new members (approximately 45 candidates and 65 catechumens). The percentage of those that we are welcoming, when compared to our overall Catholic population, compares very favorably with large dioceses and archdioceses throughout the country.

Like the growing length of days during this time of year in Alaska, the growing members in our faith family are truly encouraging for us all. A new birth is a cause for celebration in a family. The new births through water and the Spirit in the Archdiocese of Anchorage is much more so as we journey through this season of prayer and penance in the awareness of our unworthiness of God’s gracious mercy in Jesus.

Printed with permission from  The Catholic Anchor, Archdiocese of Anchorage.