Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Are You Hungry for Jesus?
We had a First Communion in our family this weekend. I've been wondering how to ensure my son is "getting it." Does having a big party emphasize that it's a precious event? Mementos? Statues and Rosaries? Cupcakes (the above cupcake was courtesy of our Parish social committee--not sure how I feel about it)?
One of the matriarchs in my family, who has a penchant for posing leading questions asked my son, "Did you stand in awe at the presence of God?" And before going to bed that night my husband and I considered what an eight-year-old would make of that question: a slack-jawed, bug eyed, hands-flayed, neck distending pose? What does "awe" look like to a kid?
I think it is hard to stand in legitimate awe (not the pose of awe) at the presence of God when we receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. And transmitting that Holy reverance to a child feels at times even more difficult.
At my own First Communion, I was so distraught by my absense of a veil, and the plainness of my linen hand-me-down dress with a peter pan collar, that I missed the fact that Catholics believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Long after my First Communion, a grade school girlfriend told all the girls on the playground that Catholics drank blood at Church. Her mother was a lapsed Catholic. I was mortified that she would think such a thing, and was quick to counter her with, "They do not! It's just a symbol!" I went to a public school, and our family was one of two maybe three Catholic families in our small rural town.
My parents converted to Catholicism only a year or two before my First Communion, and I think they naively believed that I would learn everything I needed to know about it in my CCD classes. But the first time I learned that Catholics believe that Jesus is really present body and blood in the Eucharist under the species of bread and wine, I was close to graduating from college. I had lectored at the 10:30 A.M. Mass all through high school; I had played my cello with the church choir; I had taught a Confirmation class to kids only two years younger than I, and won a "Spirit of Youth" award from the Archdiocese, and I did not know this basic teaching of my faith.
It's no wonder I fell hard when I went to college. In that environment, without the richness of the Sacramental life, or any understanding of why the Sacraments are so important, I had no well from which to draw. I was trying to be good on my own strength, and failing miserably.
It wasn't until some blessed soul (a member of Regnum Christi) set me in the Adoration chapel in front of the Eucharist that I began to understand the True Presence. "Go in there and ask Jesus what he wants from you," she said. And I thought, "Whatever. God doesn't talk to me."
But I went nonetheless, and God didn't talk to me, but I sat there for a long time, and people came and went, and they knelt down on both knees, and they gazed lovingly at the Eucharist in the monstrance. They stood in awe of the presence of God. And I thought, "That's an awful lot of hullabaloo for a piece of bread." In hindsight, it's possible that I'd heard the teaching on the Eucharist by this time, but had never seen anyone acting like they actually believed it.
My parents' initial conversion was to a sort of "Catholic Lite." Their conversion to "Super Catholicism" (or practicing ALL the teachings of the Church) occurred separately and almost simultaneously with my own reversion nearly fifteen years after they were confirmed in the Church.
Coming to belief in the True Presence of the Eucharist was a long, slow process that required many trips to the Confessional, many retreats, and several drastic changes of lifestyle. But I wanted to believe and God answered my prayer.
The Eucharist is so important to me now it has become a physiological need. It enables me to meet my day with optimism. It's strange how something that for so many years seemed irrelevant has become like air or water. The Church can carry on just as well without me, but I can no longer carry on without the Sacraments it provides. Some people can live without them. I cannot. I NEED them.
And yet, if I know my son at all, the cake and punch reception in the Parish Hall, the party following in his honor, the gifts; these things were all terribly important to him, but the actual reception of the Eucharist...not so much.
I want to make sure he gets it, at the same time I'm aware that the interests of an eight-year-old boy don't usually rest in favor of attending Mass. It takes time to grow spiritually, and his apprenticeship is just beginning. To breed little child saints seems the territory of other families, families who've done everything right all along, who've never treated the Eucharist casually. Not to say I'm throwing in the towel at this early hour, only recognizing that we're not all there yet.