By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Maria Slusarek pumped her fist in joy as her fiancé Derek Zehms stood in their pew at Sacred Heart Cathedral during the presentation of catechumens for the Diocese of Davenport. Zehms, a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, was among the 34 catechumens participating in the Mass during which they celebrated the Rite of Election on March 6. Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided.
“We’re pretty pumped about him (Zehms) joining the Church,” Slusarek said after the Mass. Zehms said he regularly attends Mass with his fiancée and after the birth of their son, Wade, nine months ago, “I decided it was time to finally join the Church.”
Zehms credited Dan Teets, director of adult faith formation at St. Mary Parish, for guiding him through the catechumenate and being a great mentor. All of the experiences leading up to and including the Rite of Election have been unique and enjoyable, Zehms said.
Peyton Levas, a junior majoring in history at the University of Iowa, is preparing to enter the Catholic Church through the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. “It was awesome,” he said of the Rite of Election. “It brings me closer to God.” Levas, of Sunnyvale, California, said he was not baptized but his grandparents were strong Catholics and he felt a strong pull toward the Catholic Church while in high school and began attending Mass. At the Newman Center, Levas met fellow student Grant Hemphill, who offered to serve as his godparent when Levas expressed his desire to enter the Catholic Church.
The presentation of the catechumens marked an important milestone on their journey of faith. They are completing their period of preparation and have “found strength in God’s grace and support in our community’s prayer and example,” Deacon John Jacobsen told Bishop Zinkula. “Now they ask that after the celebration of the scrutinies they be allowed to participate in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.” The scrutinies are special rites celebrated on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, the final period of purification and enlightenment for the Elect, those catechumens called to the Easter sacraments.
During his homily preceding the Celebration of Election, Bishop Zinkula reflected on that day’s Gospel reading, from Luke, that tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. “Dear catechumens, like Jesus, you are entering into an important period of growth and grace. Those of us who are already fully initiated members of the Catholic Church welcome you and pray that these coming weeks of Lent will be special for you,” the bishop said. “We pray that, like Jesus, you will hear God saying to you, ‘You are my beloved ones. With love, I am calling you; I choose you to be members of the Catholic Church family.”
The bishop spoke about the central theme for the day’s readings — hope. “Our hope is a confident expectation that, no matter what happens, God will be there. God is there, for us and with us.” He shared a story about a family whose house had caught fire and one of the young children inexplicably ran back into the house and upstairs.
Suddenly, they saw him at a smoke-filled window, crying profusely. His father shouted, “Jump, son, jump! I’ll catch you.” The boy cried, “But daddy, I can’t see you.” “I know,” his father called, “I know. But I can see you.” The boy jumped and his father caught him.
“There are many times when our trust in God’s goodness is like that story,” the bishop said. “We stand at a window, but we cannot see what is below us. It is then that we hear Jesus’ voice, ‘Jump, my friend, jump!’ We make the leap of faith, not because we can see clearly that we are safe, that we are going to be caught, but rather, because we trust in the word of Jesus.”
Bishop Zinkula encouraged the catechumens to continue to pray, to study and read the Scriptures. “The word of God must permeate your entire being. Hear it with your ears; read it with your eyes. Speak it with your lips; accept it with your mind and believe it in your heart.”
After the Celebration of Election, the godparents and then the assembly affirmed their support for the Elect. The Elect confirmed their desire to enter fully into the Church through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. A representative from each parish stood in the cathedral’s aisles and raised for all to see their parish’s Book of the Elect, containing the names of the newly enrolled.
Bishop Zinkula spoke to the catechumens, “My brothers and sisters, I declare you to be members of the Elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries of the Easter Vigil.” “Thanks be to God,” the congregation responded, with applause.
After praying over the Elect, Bishop Zinkula dismissed them to reflect more deeply on the word of God. They entered the cathedral’s Great Hall for their reflection, led by Tammy Norcross-Reitzler, campus minister for St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Among the questions, she asked the gathering, “What did you hear in the Gospel that struck you, or the bishop’s homily?” “A leap of faith,” one of the Elect said. “Do you feel like you are taking a leap of faith?” Norcross-Reitzler asked him. “I am,” he responded.
Rosina Hendrickson of Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago guided the Elect through mystagogy, unpacking the rite they celebrated earlier that day. She asked them to reflect on the opening procession of the Mass, the entrance song and the rite itself. She made an analogy between sonar and mystagogy. Sonar plumbs the depths of the sea while mystagogy plumbs the depths of the mystery of the faith. “We come to a deeper understanding of our life in Christ.”