Jane Weiland is counting down the days to when she’ll get to receive Holy Communion with her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren at St. Joseph Church in Fayette.
“Having all the family in church together is an earlier heaven,” she stated. “It really is.”
Mrs. Weiland is one of the people preparing for Easter Sacraments of Initiation who joined Bishop W. Shawn McKnight in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City Feb. 21 for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion.
Held in cathedrals throughout the world on the First Sunday of Lent, it is a significant milestone toward becoming committed, active members of the Catholic Church.
The elect are seeking Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil. Candidates, who have already been baptized, hope to receive First Communion and Confirmation.
They’ve all been preparing for several months — some for even longer — 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.
As part of the ceremony, Bishop McKnight compiled the names of those seeking baptism into the Book of the Elect.
He urged the elect and candidates to spend the rest of Lent pursuing repentance and deeper conversion with the support of the Church.
“God is always faithful to those he calls,” the bishop told those gathered. “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.”
For the sake of everyone’s health and safety, only the candidates and elect, their sponsors and godparents and members of their parish RCIA teams attended the Rite of Election this year.
The people wore facemasks and sat in alternating rows.
Bishop McKnight noted in his homily that Catholics are in communion with their bishop, who in turn is in communion with all the other bishops throughout the world, who are also in communion with and under the successor of St. Peter, the Pope.
“Today, in Catholic fashion, we manifest the fact that those who will receive the Easter Sacraments join not just their local parish but the whole Universal Roman Catholic Church throughout the world,” he said.
“We are honored”
Many who become Catholic are drawn by the example of family, friends, coworkers and other people they encounter in everyday life.
“We are honored that God has touched your life in some way and that you have found our Church to be the place you desire to call your spiritual home,” Bishop McKnight told the assembly.
He 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,” Bishop McKnight stated in his homily.
He said that the entire local Church welcomes the candidates and elect and rejoices that they have encountered God in the world in spite of the evils that are present in it.
“We celebrate that you, too, will become another light of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Jesus’s love,” he said. “And we look forward to you experiencing the joy of receiving Holy Communion for the first time at this Easter Vigil.”
Candidate Andrew Cowherd called his wife right after the ceremony.
“I told her it was great, a wonderful experience,” he said.
He had never been to the Cathedral or seen a bishop in person before.
“We’ve talked about the organization of the Church, but I never knew what the bishop looked like or heard him speak,” said Mr. Cowherd, who will be a member of Ss. Peter & Paul Church in Boonville.
“I liked getting to hear his welcome,” he said. “It’s really nice to have someone say, ‘We’re glad you’re here, and thank you for all you’ve done to make it this far.’”
Mr. Cowherd grew up in Boonville in a devoutly Christian household with supportive parents.
They went to church every Sunday.
The few times he attended Mass at Ss. Peter & Paul left him puzzled.
“I had never seen a kneeler before,” he said. “Where I went to church, we never kneeled.”
He met his wife, Lauren, a lifelong Catholic, while they were students at Truman State University in Kirksville.
They took part in a Pre-Cana retreat before getting married in a Catholic church 14 years ago.
They attended classes at church in preparation for having their first child baptized.
When it was time for kindergarten, they enrolled her in a Catholic school.
The family moved several times before returning to Boonville. They now have three children enrolled in Ss. Peter & Paul School.
“I knew their involvement in the Church was going to get bigger and bigger as they get older,” Mr. Cowherd said. “I finally had this light go on this summer that said, ‘It’s time. I need to do this before my kids are too old.’ I need to know what they’re experiencing.’”
He also wanted to become more grounded in his faith and get closer to Jesus and to his family.
“This is just what I needed to help me stay focused,” he said.
It’s been a substantial commitment.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” he said. “It’s something you really have to work on. But it’s been a fantastic experience.”
Naturally inquisitive, he has enjoyed asking questions and getting good answers from the RCIA team at Ss. Peter & Paul.
“It’s really about going through and listening and trying to understand what we do and who we are,” he said. “I knew there was a method and reason behind all of this, but I didn’t know what it was.”
He’s deeply grateful to the parish RCIA team, his confirmation sponsor and for his wife for their support.
“It’s a huge team effort, from my wife holding down the fort at home while I’m at class and from all the people at church,” he said.
He hopes his own experience will help him encourage people who feel lost in a Catholic environment.
“If people have questions, they can come to me and ask me about it,” he said. “That’s something I would like to bring with me into the Church and share with others.”
He asks for prayers for perseverance for all elect and candidates, “to make sure we finish well.”
“And for all of us to find our place and get involved as we move forward,” he added.
Mrs. Weiland grew up in a Christian family, putting into practice a faith that called her, in the words of John Wesley, to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
She and her husband Robert were active in youth ministry at their church in Kirkwood, near St. Louis, where they raised their family.
They taught Sunday school and led retreats and at least three youth mission trips.
Their daughter, Pam, attended Central Methodist College in Fayette, where she met Frank Flaspohler, a Catholic whom she would eventually marry.
Mrs. Flaspohler then became Catholic. They and their children are now members of St. Joseph Parish in Fayette.
Mr. and Mrs. Weiland found their way to central Missouri, where she completed her master’s degree and the coursework to serve as a licensed lay pastor of the United Methodist Church.
“On Sundays, I could serve in small rural churches where we had need,” she noted.
She also taught at St. Mary School in Glasgow from 1986 to 1991.
“It was a terrific school to teach in,” she said. “My principal, Sister Eleanor, was so wonderful. The teachers were very welcoming.”
She continued teaching in the Fayette R-III School District and then served as a substitute teacher until the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the Fayette School Board honored her as the district’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year.
Mrs. Weiland’s son-in-law is a lector at St. Joseph Church, and her daughter sings in the choir, as do some of Mrs. Weiland’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Lately, I’ve been attending St. Joseph,” she said. “I’ve found it to be a very warm and welcoming congregation.”
“And as a bonus, I get to hold a baby on my lap!” she added.
Her oldest grandson invited her to become Catholic.
“He’s very persuasive,” she noted.
Equipped with a solid curriculum, she has been filling-in as a religious education teacher in the parish CCD program.
“And now I have a class!” she said. “With two of the great-grands in it!”
She plans to hold onto friendships and faith connections within the United Methodist Church, “but the Catholic faith is going to be an essential part of my life,” she said.
“This has been a wonderful trip,” she stated, “and it’s not finished.”
She asks for prayers for all people preparing to become Catholic to grow in their prayer life and their relationship with God.
“And to be diligent and ever-ready to be of service to the Church,” she said. “I think that’s incredibly important — not just to attend on Sunday, but to be part of whatever we can do to help.”
As the moment nears
All Catholics are encouraged to keep the candidates and elect in prayer through these last, most intense weeks of preparation before they’re received into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil.
That night, the symbols of fire, light, water, oil, bread and wine will be highlighted in a Liturgy filled with some of the Church’s richest traditions and rituals.
Neophytes, as newly initiated members of the Church are known after the Easter Vigil, will continue meeting regularly through Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter.
That phase, called Mystagogia, is a time to “savor the mystery” of Easter and to experience a full and joyful welcome into the community.
Bishop McKnight noted that catechumens and the elect will look to those who have already been initiated for an example of Christian renewal.
“Let us pray to the Lord for them and for ourselves, that we may be renewed by one another’s efforts and together come to share the joys of Easter,” he said.