This weekend we’ll be celebrating the first Communions of a number of our young parishioners.
A lot goes into preparing for the day as we try to talk to kids about how Jesus is present in a special way. What I try to stress to the kids (and indeed to all people) is how much they are loved by God. Last week during my homily, I used the analogy of Thanksgiving dinner. While we don’t leave physically full from Mass as we do on Turkey Day, we do leave spiritually full of God’s love, much like we do with our families. The Eucharist does that for us. When we celebrate Mass, we believe Jesus comes into the home of our body (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”) and when He does this, we grow closer to Him. It’s His way of saying “I love you” and we celebrate Mass to commemorate what He did for us, but not just as a memorial; rather as a re-presentation of the Last Supper and the First Eucharist.
God is present in the Eucharist, but we also need to open up our hearts to receiving that love. It’s called “cooperating” with grace.
One way is of course through prayer and focusing on the importance of Mass. Jesus is made present each time we celebrate Mass, and as that time nears, we need to reflect on how we are loved by God and prepare for that moment when we welcome God, through the Eucharist, in a special way into our hearts. Mass helps us through the penitential rite, as we think about how we can become better people, and the Liturgy of the Word, as we think about how the readings apply to our own spiritual journeys. We also need to be open to the effects of the Eucharist, which draws us closer to God and one another, which means actively participating in Mass and prayer and also using the Eucharist to help us throughout the week. If we receive Communion and then are fighting in the car on the way home, are cold towards others during the day or gossiping and judging others, we might want to think more deeply about what we’ve just received.
You also might consider spending time in silent prayer in the sanctuary. As I was going through the church a couple of weeks ago, a parishioner who was volunteering that day commented how much she loved our worship space. I couldn’t agree more. I find it a very peaceful place to go and pray. The same can be said for other Catholic churches as well. We have the tabernacle with the sanctuary lamp as a reminder of Jesus being present with us always. You might consider dropping into the church from time to time for prayer or meditation.
As Communion gives us food for the journey, it’s also worth thinking about how our Lord can change us. Transformation comes gradually, but the more we open ourselves up to the graces of the sacrament, the better we can become. A person who has a close relationship with God and who has Eucharist take root exhibits changes. They are often seen in the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Eucharist is meant to bring us closer to Jesus, and help us to become what it is receive. As we think of the significance of Holy Communion, we become better people.
Finally, like the apostles who distributed the food to the hungry crowd after Jesus performs the miracle of loaves and fishes, Communion, as it changes us, should inspire us to bring Jesus into the world. As we become people who are more loving, patient and joyful, we can help others to see God’s love for them through how we treat them. Holy Communion can help open our eyes to be aware of who needs that love. This is why the connection between Mass and the rest of our life is so important; as Pope Francis has said, the Church is a field hospital. We are to go out into the world to help one another, not tear one another down or ignore the needs of the others. Jesus reminds us of this at the Last Supper as He washes the feet of the 12 and tells them they must do the same.
Again, my congratulations to all making their First Communion this week and next, and thanks so much to all who helped prepare the kids for this big day. But my hope is the significance of the day, and our First Communion, is never forgotten and each time we come together at the Lord’s table we draw closer to Him.