Sunday, May 3, 2015

Lessons From First Communion

(Didn't preach this Sunday, but this gospel and this homily that I preached three years ago were as if I had preached it this morning.  Enjoy!)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  (John 5:15)

Yesterday was First Communion Day here at the parish.  The kids were so excited to receive Jesus for the very first time in the Eucharist.  They came all decked out in white with hoards of family in tow.  This occasion prompted me to recall my own First Communion back in the spring of 1984 at Divine Providence Church in Sweetwater.  I was so excited that morning.  When I was younger I would go up with my parents in the communion procession and would always ask them when I could receive.  Well, it was finally time and I couldn’t contain my excitement except that during the reading of the gospel I started to sway back and forth and began to get very light headed.  I made a beeline to my parents who along with my catechist took my into the sacristy where they discovered that the reason I was dizzy was because I did not have breakfast that morning.  They gave me a cup of water and sent me right out where I paid close attention to the Mass.  Even at that young age, I knew that when we started to say the Our Father that Communion time was drawing near and that the Kiss of Peace brought us even closer!  I received my First Communion with great joy and then went back to my seat to give thanks to the Lord for finally allowing me to receive him.   It was a great day!  My entire family was there and do you know what we did after the Mass to celebrate:  we went to McDonald’s!  Because, really?  What else does a kid want?  Yesterday, I heard about people having communion parties at Morton’s and The Capital Grille.  Sometimes I wonder if the parties are more for the adults than for the honored children, but I digress.  I was happy with my Egg McMuffin (still love those!) and our weekly trip to the Keys right after.  Life was simpler back then as were our First Communions and our simple and innocent relationship with God when we made the time to thank him for his loving presence.

As I was watching the children receive the Lord yesterday, they all went back to their pews and knelt down in intense prayer.  They were taught, as we were, to say a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus right after receiving communion.  Unfortunately as we grow older, our minds start to wander, we get distracted easier, and the private prayer of thanksgiving after communion becomes an afterthought that is often said in the parking lot, if at all. We have much to learn from the children.  Think back today to your own First Communion and how excited you were to finally being one with Jesus. That’s what today’s gospel is all about:  “Remain in me as I remain in you.”  Jesus makes his dwelling in us, but so often we don’t give him the time befitting our Lord to savor and thank him for his presence.  In order to be good Christians, we must be rooted in Christ.  That is why this metaphor of the vine is so appropriate.  We are united to him in this Eucharist and if we remain in him we produce much fruit.  If we cut ourselves off from the vine and from this blessed communion that we partake in too soon, our Lord’s words are very blunt:  “Without me you can do nothing.”  That is why it pains me to see people walking out of Mass as early as the Kiss of Peace or right after they have received Communion.  Is what is waiting for us out there more important than what we are doing in here? (Sick relatives and rare emergencies excluded of course.)  We have unfortunately brought our “drive thru” culture into this sacred space.  We don’t make time to bask in the presence of the Lord after we receive him.  We don’t make the time to strengthen that bond between the Lord and us.  How can we possibly produce fruit if the branches are so quick to detach themselves from the vine? Yesterday, I read a quote from St. Maximilian Kolbe who said, “The culmination of the Mass is not the consecration, but Communion.”  This is what we came for.  This is WHO we came for.  Yes, we have a lot to learn from our children who were so intense in their post communion prayers.  They knew that they were at last one with Jesus.  May we recover that sense of wonder and awe that these children have when they approach the altar of the Lord.  It is here where we unite ourselves more closely to Christ where we remain in him as he remains in us.  We need this bond to produce the fruit that he expects from us.  We need this nourishment because without him we can do nothing.