Recently, a former student of mine contacted me for a couple of words that I would want to share with parents of children who are about to receive their First Communion. I thought that I might share these words with all those directors of religious education and sacramental preparation as they begin to hold First Communion sessions in their parishes and dioceses:
What a joy to be with you here this evening. We at the parish are supremely happy to have your child with us this year as he or she prepares to receive their first Communion.
Of course, we don't have to point out to you that your child is a gift. You know this most of all. You have held your newborn son or daughter in your arms. You have laughed at their earliest attempts to dance in the living room, bouncing up and down with joy. You have delighted in their developing sense of humor. You love them. And they serve for you as a daily reminder of the joyful gift of life itself.
The Church also has seen your child develop with joy. We at the parish (or whatever parish you were at) watched as your son or daughter was baptized in our midst. We have been overjoyed to see them here among us on Sundays and major feast days. We love them as our brothers and sisters in Christ, who remind us of the joy and wonder that should be part and parcel of the Christian in life.
Over this year, your son or daughter will prepare to receive their first Eucharist. Of course, this will be a remarkable celebration for your family. It should be! But why?
When your children were very young, they thought that you could love them completely. Of course, you do love them completely. But, they wanted the kind of love that you could not give them. That no human being could give them. They wanted you to love them so much that you never failed them, never departed from them, were always and forever and ever and ever there.
That's why they barged into your room in the middle of the night, demanding that you come sleep with them. That's why they came back to you again and again for hugs in the midst of playing. That's why they still get sad if they're away from you for too long. They want to be infinitely loved.
But you can't love like this. You already know this. You can't take away every sadness or sorrow from the life of your son or daughter. You can't promise them a world where there won't be disappointments. You can't love them, care for them, as much as you want to. You can't love them infinitely. It's impossible.
But God can. And that's the gift of their First Communion. At every Mass, Jesus becomes entirely and absolutely present among us. Jesus Christ, who is God's total and absolute Love made flesh. Human beings alone can't love like this. Yet, in the Eucharist, we receive Christ's Body and Blood so that we can experience this kind of infinite love.
The love that we desire more than anything at all is given to us, to become one with us through eating and drinking, and to change us forever into this very same gift of love for the world.
This year, your son and daughter (together with your family) will spend a lot of time learning about the Eucharist. They will come to know about its origins in the Scriptures. They will come to understand what it means when we say that Jesus Christ is "substantially" present in the Eucharist. They will come to understand how the Mass prepares us to receive this gift of love. They will come to understand the consequences of this love in their family, their city and country, and their friendships.
This education will be essential for both you and for them. Because, you'll perhaps discover along the way that the Eucharist really is a gift for you too. You'll come to see through the eyes of your child the reality of God's love made flesh. Your children will preach the Good News to you that God is love, that God's love dwells among us, that God's love calls us to become this love for one another.
You see, this year of preparation is just another way to invite you to recognize the gift of your children. For they look with wonder on the meaning of the Eucharist in their lives, they will offer this gift to you.
Through their wonder, our entire parish will learn again what it means to taste and see the goodness of the Lord dwelling among us. We will be converted, evangelized, transformed through your child.
Your children are gifts to our parish, to the entire Church, to the whole world.
But, you already knew that.
Thank you for letting your children share this gift of God's very love with us.