Sunday, May 5, 2013

First Steps

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

The Easter season is a season of firsts.  It all begins during the Easter Vigil when our catechumens are baptized and begin taking their first steps in the faith.  In our parish, we have Confirmations and it also the season of First Communions.  Yesterday was First Communion day in our parish as 70 children received the Lord for the first time in two separate Masses.  I started off my homily yesterday asking the children if they were nervous.  They were not.  Kids aren’t easily rattled these days.  I guess I asked the question because, well, I was the one who was nervous.  This was my 1st First Communion as a pastor.  I had walked with these children in their formation over the last six months.  I had heard many of their First Confessions, and now I was going to share with them the greatest gift that Jesus left us: himself!  So yes, even though I still get nervous before every Mass I celebrate (even after 11 years of priesthood), this one was different because the perfectionist in me wanted them to have a beautiful memory of their First Communion as I do of mine which as providence would have it, was right here in this beautiful church.  What a joy it was to celebrate that Mass for them.  Their eyes fixed intently on the altar and on the Lord.  As I mentioned last week, we have so much to learn from God’s little ones.  After they received communion and had done their private prayers of thanksgiving, I went down and asked them in front of the congregation how they felt.  They told me they felt great, they felt happy, and they felt peace (something Jesus talks about today and that we’ll get back to).  Then I asked them what they prayed for during their prayers of thanksgiving.  One little girl told me she thanked God for her family.  Another one told me she thanked Him for her health.  And then one little boy brought the house down when he told me that he thanked God for his girlfriend!  Obviously, no one could top that one so we moved on to the conclusion of the Mass, but what will endure in my memory after celebrating my 1st First Communion Mass will be the faces of these children so excited, so at peace, and so transfixed by our Lord.

So many times we take for granted what these children had longed for and received yesterday from this altar.  We need to go back to those first steps that we took in our faith like when we made our First Communion and always approached this altar with excitement and wonder fully knowing and understanding that we were receiving the greatest treasure on earth.  We need to have the excitement of these children which is the same excitement with which the apostles preached the Resurrection in the early days of the Church.  All throughout Easter, we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles and hearing the stories of the first steps of the Church.  In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for life without him.  Could you imagine how the apostles must have felt in those early days after the Lord’s ascension when they celebrated their first Masses and performed their first baptisms?  Things were a lot simpler, but the Church was forged in the face of adversity as we heard in the 1st reading today.  In those early days, everything was a first.  They didn’t have a catechism, they didn’t have degrees in theology, and they didn’t have the gospels or the New Testament.  All they had was their witness and their contagious excitement of having experienced the Risen Lord.  The Church grew because they were filled with the Holy Spirit that Christ promised in the gospel today.  It is the same Spirit that makes us new, makes us young, and makes us experience our faith in new and extraordinary ways every single day. 

Another thing Jesus promised was the gift of peace.  I don’t why, but I’ve felt this restlessness in my heart over the last few weeks to pray for peace.  And not just a “world peace, end to war “ kind of peace, but a peace that endures in our hearts.  The peace that Jesus offers us in the gospel.  I wrote in the bulletin this week that during this month dedicated to Mary, we must fervently ask our Blessed Mother for the gift of her Son’s peace.  Peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in our families.  As Christians, we must always radiate peace—the same peace those children had yesterday upon receiving the Lord.

This morning after one of my Masses, one little girl who was excited to come back today to make her “second communion” approached me after Mass and gave me another answer to the question “how do you feel after receiving Jesus?”  Her face was so full of joy, so peaceful, so glorious.  She gave me a hug, pulled me down to her height and told me, “I feel so different.  I feel blessed.”  That’s what happens when you receive Jesus.  If only we, as adults, could approach this table with that same childlike faith and leave here with that same joy and peace.  The deacon tells us at the end of the Mass: “Go in peace.”  Yet peace eludes us.  We barely make it to our cars without us or someone else breaking that bond of peace we just received in the Eucharist.   The world definitely needs peace, and Christ is counting on you to share that peace that he gives. Jesus makes yet another promise in today’s gospel, that if we keep his word, we will be loved by the Father and they will make their dwelling in us.  This is what happened to these children yesterday as they took their first steps towards the altar of our Lord.  This is what will happen to each one of us in a few minutes and every time receive Communion:  God makes his dwelling in us.  May we always be like children and never take this eternal gift for granted.