TYLER – Some 33 parishes and missions in the Diocese of Tyler presented their candidates and elect, those persons seeking to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, to Bishop Joseph E. Strickland during evening prayer services Feb. 14 and 21 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
About 300 people attended each service. Those present included candidates, or those persons already baptized and seeking initiation into the Sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation, the elect, or those not yet baptized, sponsors, formation teams, and family members.
After their presentation, the candidates and elect will continue their spiritual formation and preparation as they await initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.
Last year, more than 500 people were brought into the Church in the Diocese of Tyler. Linda Khirallah Porter, director of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, said those numbers, and the number of those seeking initiation this year, represent a deep, spiritual hunger in people today.
“There is a need in the human person, with or without religion, to want a relationship with a higher being, to be spiritually engaged,” Porter said. “Sometimes individuals say they are not religious but spiritual, which means they don’t have a church home yet. This is the call for evangelization for us. The personal relationship with God and our relationship with others, our community, forms both sides of the cross. This is the message we as Christians, as Catholics, the people of God, offer humanity. With all the secular demands of our society – the pull toward individualism, the attraction to wealth, ownership, and power – I still believe that people can only find true happiness in embracing Jesus Christ,” she said.
In his Feb. 21 homily, Bishop Strickland welcomed all present to the cathedral, which he said “is your house.”
He took a moment to teach the meaning of the word “cathedral,” which he said is the building that houses the cathedra, or bishop’s seat.
“The name (cathedral) comes from this chair,” he said, turning and gesturing to the white and black marble bishop’s seat. “It’s a little hard to miss,” he added to laughter from the congregation.
“It’s called the cathedra, and it represents the authority of Christ that is taught from that chair by my predecessors and successors as the Bishop of Tyler,” Bishop Strickland said. “Cathedra. Cathedral. The building takes its name from that seat of authority. It is not my authority, but the authority of Christ that I am challenged to exercise as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler.
“I would encourage you to see that chair as something you can hold with great love and great strength, not because of the man who sits in it, but because it represents the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That voice, he said, continues to call to all who would hear it.
“Christ lives in our world,” the bishop said. “We must always cling to that truth, no matter the darkness of the world, no matter who forgets Christ. We are here to celebrate him and to be guided by his light.”
He reminded those present of what they are seeking in their journey to communion with Christ and his Church, using the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, the second Mass reading for that Sunday: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (4:20).
“(Paul) says something very beautiful and, I believe, profoundly important for all of us, and especially for you elect and candidates as you journey closer to him and the church he established, the Roman Catholic Church,” the bishop said. “St. Paul to the Philippians says, ‘We have our citizenship in heaven.’ We have our citizenship in heaven. I think it’s very important to listen to the words of St. Paul.
“I would imagine we all hope one day to have our citizenship in heaven,” he said. “But I think it’s important to realize that Paul isn’t talking about the future. He says we have our citizenship in heaven. And I would encourage you, as you make your journey into the Catholic Church, to know that is exactly what you’re seeking.
“If you are baptized, you already have that citizenship. If you are seeking baptism, that is what you are seeking,” Bishop Strickland said.
And that citizenship imposes responsibilities, he said.
“Because we are citizens of heaven, we are called to transform our world,” Bishop Strickland said. “When we hear that word ‘citizenship,’ for me at least, it conjures up the political, and that’s a dangerous conjuring in our world today, in our nation. But St. Paul’s words remind us that we must face the challenge – and it is a great challenge today – to transform our world in the light of Christ, to pray for those who seek political office that they might be wise and rooted in the truth.
“There is one truth,” he said. “Jesus Christ, our lord and savior, literally is that truth incarnate, that truth personified.”
Bishop Strickland encouraged those listening to vote, to engage in the political process “and not be dragged down by it, as too often we are, but to be lifted up in Christ. This is our challenge as citizens of heaven.”
But we are not left to carry the burdens and responsibilities of that citizenship alone, Bishop Strickland said. Christ gave, and continues to give us, himself.
“Every day, when Mass is celebrated at this altar, at this eucharistic altar, we are celebrating the fact that we touch heaven, that we touch that citizenship, that we are fed by the Body and Blood of the Son of God,” the bishop said. “That eucharistic faith is what has inspired many of you to come and to study and to learn and to do all these things that we ask you to do because you feel, as we all do, to the Eucharist, to Christ truly present. And it is in the Mass that we citizens of heaven join with the angels and the saints, the Virgin Mary and all of the heavenly host, to be reminded of who we are.
“As we continue our prayers this evening,” Bishop Strickland said, “let us rejoice. We are citizens of heaven. Let us live this glorious truth.”