On the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent Catholic parishes who are preparing adults and children to be baptized at the Easter Vigil celebrate what are called the “Scrutinies.” These rites are celebrated at liturgies where the Elect, those adults and children who are preparing for Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Children (RCIC) are attending. Part of their journey to receive the Sacraments of Initiation has included the Rite of Acceptance by their sponsoring parish and the Rite of Election from the bishop or his delegate. The Rite of Election was celebrated on February 18th at the Cathedral of Saint Paul and the Basilica of Saint Mary. Even if the Rite of Acceptance and the Rite of Election are not celebrated at the Church of St. Matthew, it can be a wonderful way to reflect upon the journey the Elect are making during Lent and an inspiration for us to consider our own Lenten journey.
The Scrutinies are ancient rites and they may, at first, seem strange to us. But they are profoundly rooted in our human experience. We need to examine or scrutinize how we are living our lives, the ways we can improve our behaviors, and to ask for the healing and strength that comes from the support of our sisters and brothers as we continue to undergo conversion. There are special gospel readings for each of the three Scrutinies that reflect what is taking place. The story of the Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:5-42) for looking at how we live our lives. The story of the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41) for the ways we can improve our lives. And the story of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45) for asking to be unbound with the help of our sisters and brothers.
Our religious understanding of conversion comes from the Greek word metanoia. In ancient Greece, metanoia meant “the shifting of minds” and referred to the way a person or group of people arrived at a new way of looking at a situation or a new understanding of an issue. For the English scriptures, metanoia is usually translated as “repent” and is found where Jesus announces the Kingdom of God. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:14).
Conversion can be thought of as a transformation of who we are and the way we see the world. Normally, it is a long process that takes time and is marked by a few momentous occasions and critical decisions. Conversion is a change of course or direction. It is as if our eyes are opened and our old-world fades and falls away. What emerges is a new person on all human levels and in all ways of human living. Conversion is a change of heart when we trust ourselves to God and God’s gracious guidance.
Down through the years, spiritual directors, moral theologians, and psychologists have attempted to describe what takes place at all the different human levels and in all ways of human living when it comes to conversion. Religious conversion is when we recognize that we are being grasped by God. This often happens when a crisis happens in our lives and we look to God for meaning. Intellectual conversion is when we change our perspectives on the world to see reality as it truly is and not what it seems to be. It is a process marked by a continual turning away from ideologies, delusions, and false images of God to the one true God as revealed by Jesus Christ. Affective conversion is the change of values that takes place within us as we turn away from self-love to charity for others. Moral conversion is when the changes in our thoughts and feelings influence our everyday decisions and actions. We become responsible for the choices we make.
As we join the Elect, in prayer if not in person, as they experience the Scrutinies, let us recognize and celebrate God’s good work begun in the Elect and carried on in us.
Fr. Bob Kelly
artwork © Liturgical Publications