First Communion is Just the Beginning

It was a beautiful day. Sixteen nervous kids held out shaking hands to receive their First Communion last weekend. As a teacher preparing students for this day, I tell them they are becoming tabernacles for Jesus. They will receive Jesus in a way unlike any other.

Yes, Jesus is always with us and we receive his grace in the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. We can hear his words in the Gospels and we can talk to him in prayer. But there is nothing like receiving him as the Bread of Life. There is nothing like becoming a tabernacle.

However, the sad reality is that some of the young people who receive the Eucharist for the first time, won’t receive Jesus again for a long time. Too many families see First Communion as the beginning and the end of their obligation for faith formation.

These young people who are so excited on this day, and feel the glow of love for Jesus, are like delicate new buds pushing up out of the ground of the secular world. Their experience is fragile and tentative. It needs to be nourished by weekly reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. When parents make a big deal out of First Communion and then make excuses for not going to Mass on Sundays after that, they send a mixed message.

The message seems to be that “only the first time is important. Then, if you receive Jesus again once a year, that’s enough.” The bud doesn’t open. The flower wilts.

It is so important that our children see a love, respect and hunger for the Eucharist in their parents. Then their curiosity leads them to desire. And desire leads to deeper prayer and understanding.

One time is not enough. Tabernacle literally means “temporary dwelling place.” If we are to keep Jesus close to us, we need to invite him into the tabernacle of our bodies on a weekly basis.

Then, the tabernacle will glow with his presence. And the flowers unfold in loveliness!

(The photo is my daughter Brigit, at her First Communion in 2008.)

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