Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Greatest of all Gifts

Illustration, copyright 2014, Used by permission

Dear parents of children preparing to celebrate First Holy Communion (and all Catholics who desire the fullness of life),

During the Easter Season nearly two hundred children of our parish are to receive, for the first time, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56, NRSV). 

When we poll students in our parish religious education program, we find that some do not attend holy Mass regularly and some not at all. If it is true that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” and it is, and that it can be said that “in the Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324), and it can, then what are the children missing out on when they do not attend Mass on a regular basis?

Knowing that parents want the absolute best for their children (isn’t that a given?), I have to believe this problem stems from a lack of understanding as to what the Eucharist truly is. But how can there be this misunderstanding?

I think it must come down to faith formation. It seems many of our generation of Catholics were not as well formed in the teachings of our faith as we could have been, including what we believe about the sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist.

Being an adult convert to Catholicism, I do not have the childhood experience of catechesis and may only rely on the testimony of friends who were raised Catholic when it comes to trying to understand the seeming disconnect many life-long Catholics seem to have with the greatness of the gift of the Eucharist and Sunday Mass.

Some of my friends--- really, many of my friends--- insist that their own formational catechesis growing up was mediocre at best, dismal or absent altogether at worst. They will say things like, “We simply didn’t learn very much about our faith. I grew up in a time when catechesis was more about pithy platitudes about Jesus, coloring, and crafts than it was about substance and doctrine. I don’t really know what we believe. How am I supposed to hand on to my children something I just don’t possess myself?”

That is a valid question.

Thank goodness there are so many formational resources out there today for the adult Catholic who was not well catechized as a child but wants to grow in knowledge of the Catholic Faith.

But it begins with a beginning. People don’t tend to embark on a journey (in this case, of discovery of the deep truths of the Faith) unless they perceive the value of the destination.

To begin the journey deep into the heart of Jesus Christ, one must first recognize the worth of such an endeavor. In this case, in the journey of faith, generally one must first be astonished by Jesus Christ, just as the disciples were. He was like no one or no thing they had ever experienced.

Sometimes this moment of initial astonishment happens inexplicably at Mass, when a word one hears in the proclamation of the Gospel or in a homily acts as a spiritual slap in the face that wakens one’s dormant heart. (Of course, for those who do not attend Mass, how may this happen?)

Sometimes it happens through a friendship with someone whose witness of faith is impossible to ignore. There is an irresistible attraction to that person’s spirituality, a desire to know what makes that other person the way he or she is.

Sometimes it comes from an encounter with the mercy of God through the experience of grief at the loss of a loved one, or in facing a terrible sickness or trial.

Sometimes it happens through a spiritual experience such as a Christ Renews His Parish retreat, or a Cursillo retreat, or at a That Man is You gathering.

And sometimes it happens through sharing the experience of a sacrament with a child--- the baptism of one’s infant, a child’s first Reconciliation (how many parents experience the Lord's mercy through a long overdue Confession on the day of their child’s First Reconciliation), or through family preparation for a child’s first Holy Communion.

The day after our first Communion retreat, a mother came to me and shared that our pastor’s walk-through explanation of the Mass changed her perception of the holy Mass so much that she wept during Sunday Mass that morning. She was glowing with joy! She recognized the presence of Jesus in the Mass in a new way through a formational experience. Many of us have experienced occasions that invite and foster this sort of deepening conversion.

Adult conversion seems, generally speaking, to happen something like this:

One catches a glimpse of the heart of Christ, and recognizes in oneself the infinite longing within one’s own heart, and realizes that all of one’s life has been spent in pursuit of meaning, of authentic happiness, all the while trying to satisfy this aching desire through various means (often one’s work, hobbies, relationships, etc.). Somehow, by God's truly amazing grace, one discovers that only Christ can ultimately bring peace and happiness. At that point, that point of recognition of the sheer Goodness of the Lord, one is moved—impelled--- to make a journey. Or, sadly, one pushes the reality of the call deeper into the recesses of the heart in avoidance, afraid of what the journey may cost (Cf. Mark 10:22).

But the journey begins with the movement from desire: I want MORE. I am not satisfied.

There is the realization that only the infinite Reality can fill the infinite hole in one’s heart.

The Blessed Eucharist is the Bread of Heaven because it is Jesus, and Jesus is Emmanuel, "God with us." And only God can fill the human heart to capacity.

We will only know the fullness of happiness and joy when we are in ultimate union with the source of all happiness and joy, God, in Heaven.

The gift you are about to share with your children is the greatest of all gifts because it is Jesus Himself, and there is no greater gift on heaven or earth. It is through communion with Him that we experience communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we abide in Jesus we abide in the Father and Him in us.

The Eucharist is our lifeline to Life.

That may sound abstract, but there is nothing more practical than living in God, in loving Him and being loved by Him.

If you want to give your child the greatest gift there is, if you want to bring your child into the most loving arms of God the Father, bring your child to Jesus in the sacrifice of the holy Mass, and make sure that the Mass is the center of your family’s life.

As your child celebrates First Holy Communion, no matter where you are on the journey of faith, see this as an opportunity to begin anew, to recognize more profoundly the unfathomable mercy of the Father, the sacrifice of love of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit to renew and revitalize your heart.

Lead your children to their ultimate happiness. Lead your children into the Eucharistic heart of Jesus. Hard as it may seem to believe, he loves our children infinitely more than we do, or are able. And He wants to give them the greatest of all gifts: His very Self.

At this time, you are the steward of that greatest of all gifts.