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A Letter to My Daughter on Her First Holy Communion

A Letter to My Daughter on Her First Holy Communion

Dear Daughter,

I remember my First Holy Communion like it was yesterday. I remember the warm May day, the excitement of putting on my dress and sitting with my family, and the fact that a bunch of kids passes out during the photos afterwards. I remember the Mass, and the party. But most of all, I remember writing a “1” on my calendar in my bedroom. When we went to Mass with my class two days later, I wrote a “2.” The next Sunday, a “3.” I kept this up most of the summer. I wanted to remember every single time I was able to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. It was special, and new, and EXCITING. I was excited to receive the Body and Blood of Christ every chance I got.

I want that for you.

More than the pretty dress, and the warm family embrace, and the pictures; more than any of that, I want you to feel the Body of Christ on your tongue and know that you are participating in the most important thing you will ever do. You could cure cancer, become President of the United States, or be a mom of 18 little souls. You could do all that and more. Nothing will ever, ever, be as important as what you get to do as you approach the altar and receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ inside your very body.

That is what I want for you.

We have been through some things, my little girl. You did not grow in my womb. You were born to me, in a sense, on Holy Thursday. On that Holy Thursday many years ago, at the celebration of the institution of the Eucharist, I saw you for the first time in Daddy’s arms. I felt the Holy Spirit in my mind and my soul and even though I did not understand it, I knew I would bring you to the altar one day for your First Holy Communion. I knew you were my baby, even though it made no sense. That first Holy Thursday with you, I knew that Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection had given us the protection to go forward as a family.

This meal that you get to partake in is the source and summit of our faith*, and of our family.

It will not be easy, Daughter. You will grow complacent. I stopped writing the number of times I’d received the Body of Christ on my calendar. There were so many times I’ve gone forward mindlessly, because that’s what you do. It was important, sure, but not SPECIAL. I would get distracted by other people, friends, what other people are wearing. There are even times I went forward for Communion when I was probably not in a state to do so, and I regret those times more than anything else in the world. (That’s why you made your first confession some months ago, so you can always be prepared to approach the altar of the Lord.)


It’s not always exciting.


Except that it is. A dear priest friend prays before every Mass that we experience it as if it were our first Mass, our last Mass, our only Mass. I want you to realize that. I want you to realize that this could be the ONLY chance you ever get to receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist on earth. We are never assured of anything, and every single moment we get to experience the union with our Lord through his Body and Blood is an unmistakable gift from God, and one that we cannot take for granted, however easy that might be.


I want you to appreciate the significance of this moment, Daughter, and not only today. It’s easy today. It’s exciting. I want you to appreciate it in a year, when you’re looking over your shoulder to find your friends. I want you to appreciate it in ten years, when you’re kneeling and praying but really just watching other people walk by. I want you to appreciate it in 12 years, when you’re being made fun of for going to Mass while you’re away at college. I want you to appreciate it in twenty years, at your nuptial Mass, when the first meal you and your husband partake of together is the Eucharistic feast. I want you to appreciate it every single year after that when you have babies clinging to you, toddlers whining and kicking your skirt up, and children bugging you to find their place in the missal. I want you to appreciate it when you are sick and tired and going through morning sickness and arguing with your husband and it took everything you had to just get to Mass. I want you to appreciate it when you come forward with something broken inside you that only God can fix. I want you to appreciate it when you are preparing your daughter for her First Holy Communion.

 

That’s what I want for you today. And I will spend the rest of my life helping you understand it.

 

I love you,

 

Mommy

 

*CCC 1324

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Special Needs Mom Reflects: All are Welcome at the Feast

A week after Christmas, after months of preparation, my two youngest children received their First Holy Communion. I had always assumed that while welcome at mass, this particular avenue of grace would always be closed to them because of their disabilities. Jude was born with severe cerebral palsy due to an injury at birth and his older sister, Josie, has profound autism. The actions of a kind nun nearing retirement brought them further into the Church and able to participate in Holy Communion.

It is amazing the things that happen by luck, or more fittingly, by divine providence. We attend a variety of masses due to my job as a night shift nurse. We were lucky enough to attend a mass honoring the 50th anniversary of Sister Judy Jones of the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity, an order that was founded at the very parish we attend. It was there that sister met our children and asked a very simple question, “Have they received their First Communion?” When we replied no, her answer was equally simple, “We will need to fix that.” It was there that they started down the road to receiving First Communion.

We were on a time schedule. Sister was due to retire at the end of the year, and return to the motherhouse in Philadelphia. She made our children her top priority in the time she had left in Alabama. While we thought this wasn’t possible due to our children’s inability to participate in “normal” sacramental preparation, we were wrong. Sister had prepared many disabled children for First Holy Communion, allowing them even greater participation in the Mass. Our preparation consisted of a weekly meeting over a period of six months to prepare the children to receive. They learned more about the mass, Josie learned prayers (Jude is non-verbal), and how to receive. 

When the day arrived, it was not a typical First Holy Communion. The Church was beautiful with Christmas decorations, not the typical spring flowers. It also happened during a regular Sunday mass. Many of the congregants had watched our children grow and I am certain that mine were not the only tears of joy shed that morning. When they received, it completed something that I felt was undone, something that made my children “normal.” For my children, it allowed them to truly experience our Lord in Communion, perhaps not an experience either one of them will ever be able to truly verbalize, but one that they both felt. 

The Lord calls all of us to him, even the littlest, the weakest, and the least able because with him we are strong. He calls others to guide the way for them. We are all called to the feast.

by Melanie Miller

Melanie Miller is a cradle Catholic and registered nurse married 29 years to her husband, Daryl, who converted to the faith 22 years ago.  They have seven children, ranging in age from 9 to 28.  They currently live in Georgia but attend mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Phenix City, Alabama.

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Bible Communion Confession Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

Guarding our Hearts and Minds: We Become What We Think About

Since the time my children were little I have always told them that they will become the people they surround themselves with. This means that if they surround themselves with racists, they will begin to accept that ideology. If they surround themselves with people who think drug use is ok, they will begin to think this too. If they surround themselves with people who think God is not important, well, God will soon cease to be important in their lives as well. On the flip side, if they surround themselves with those who wish to serve God and others, they will see the good in doing so and will lead that life as well. If they surround themselves with people who see Christ’s face in the faces of all those they encounter, they too will see Christ clearly in those around them.

Of course, it’s not just our children who are vulnerable to this metamorphosis. If you are like me you may have been more likely to gossip, to swear, or to do any number of other undesirable {read sinful} activities when you are hanging out with people who engage in these activities. It’s easy to get sucked into behaviors we know are contrary to what our faith tells us is right and good.

But it’s not just surrounding ourselves with the wrong people that can change who we are and what we do. Sometimes it takes no one but ourselves to bring about a negative change in our lives; sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

What we allow to enter our minds can have a tremendous effect on our lives. Our thoughts shape our beliefs and our attitudes.

Have you ever had a day that was going good and then something went wrong and your mood immediately soured? As negative thoughts flooded your mind, what did that do to the rest of your day? Did you continue to focus on the bad and ignore the good that had happened to you? Did the negative thoughts fill your mind and push out any positive thoughts that might be trying to form? How did it affect the way you interacted with others? Were you more likely to engage in sinful behavior because of it?

What about other thoughts that might take over our minds? Christ taught that it wasn’t what we put into our bodies that defiles us but what comes out of us from our hearts which corrupts us… “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).

We become what we think about.

When our minds are focused on God and on holiness, we become holy. But when our minds are preoccupied with the very things that can corrupt us- anger, fornication, deceit, gossip, envy, slander, pride- we become those things. We may not even see it happening to us; but it always will.

It is these sins which we allow to occupy our hearts and minds that ultimately lead us away from God. We absolutely become whom we surround ourselves with but only because we have allowed our hearts and minds to dwell on things that are not holy nor righteous and good.

How do we fight the battle that is being waged for our hearts and minds? First we must recognize sinful activity when we encounter it. Then we must separate ourselves from it even when separating means losing out on friends or things we otherwise enjoy. If we can look objectively at the issue and realize that the people we are encountering or the thoughts we are having or the activities we are engaging in are leading us further into negative thoughts and away from God, then we have made the first step in being able to conquer the problem.

I know that it is probably easier for someone like me who has an “I can see the silver lining in just about anything” kind of attitude to be able to turn my back on negative thoughts and to search out the good in all situations; however, it is a skill that is imperative for all of us to learn if we wish to be able to conquer our sinful thoughts. If we wish to become holy we must allow our thoughts to be holy.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Is it a tall order to think we can protect our minds and thus protect our hearts and ultimately our souls? In our sinful, broken world it can seem next to impossible. But whereas the world is broken and sinful, Christ is not. He gives us the strength and the wisdom to be able to live up to this calling. When we cling to Him and to His teachings the struggle gains purpose and we become strengthened. It’s not to say it will be easy to purge sinful thoughts and desires from our minds, but it is to say that Christ will always be there to help us.

When we are struggling to do what is right or if we begin to slip back into old, sinful habits, Christ asks us to call on Him. He has given us His Spirit to guide us and help us through; He has given us His body and blood in the Eucharist as true food to nourish us; He has given us the Sacrament of Penance for when we fail to live up to His calling; and He has given us His sacred Word to follow. He has given us all we need to change our hearts and minds.

We are what we think about.

What will you allow to occupy your heart and your mind? Who will you become?

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil 4:8

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Communion Confession Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary P. Sacraments

Approaching Communion with the Faith of a Child

Approaching Communion with the Faith of a Child

This past weekend, my oldest daughter, Rose, received her First Holy Communion. My husband and I were primarily responsible for preparing her for this incredibly special day. We did her lessons from the required First Communion book; we took her to Mass every week (as we always have); we took her to Confession often; we talked to her about what Communion is. We also tried to model respect and reverence for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We got some compliments on her First Communion day about how reverent she was, and how well we prepared her. It would be easy for me to bask in the glow of these compliments and pat myself on the back– that is, if I weren’t so acutely aware of my own shortcomings in this area, and how much Rose has actually taught me through this process.

Seven years ago, I wrote a Facebook post about how Rose– then just barely more than one year old– was teaching me about seeing the dignity in all human life. (I published the note here a couple of years later). Just like she did so many years ago as a baby, Rose has shown me once again what Jesus meant when he talked about the importance of becoming “like little children.”

I have more book knowledge about Jesus and the Church than Rose does, and I intellectually know more about what postures and behaviors are most appropriate in Mass. I can communicate those things to Rose fairly easily. But I think she is the one who more fully recognizes and appreciates Jesus present in Host and Cup. Children are much more able to simply trust in Jesus without full understanding. Their innocence and imagination help them to have a confident assurance of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist that eludes most adults. It’s real to them in a way that it might not be for many of us – even those of us who know and believe all that the Church teaches on the matter. They don’t just believe with their heads, but with their whole hearts and souls.   

Approaching Communion with the Faith of a ChildI can’t begin to describe the excitement that Rose had for months leading up to her First Communion, and especially on the day it took place. There was a time when I thought that maybe she was just looking forward to wearing a fancy white “princess” gown and getting a lot of attention; but in talking to her about Communion, I realized I was wrong about the source of her excitement. She really knew Jesus is present in the Eucharist and she really could not wait to receive Him. She came home from the First Communion practice the night before the ceremony with the biggest smile on her face, and it didn’t leave her face until well after Mass the next day. She was positively beaming. When was the last time I felt excited about receiving the Eucharist, and full of joy at the prospect of encountering the Lord there?

After she received for the first time, she told me that she was sad that Sunday Masses were an entire week away from each other because she wanted to receive Jesus more often (I reminded her that Mass happens every day, but it’s somewhat difficult for this pregnant mama to get her three little ones to weekday Mass alone). She received for the first time on a Saturday, so she did get to receive again the very next day– and she was more excited than ever to go to a regular Sunday Mass! How often do I long for Jesus in the Eucharist during the week, or make an extra effort to get to daily Mass to meet Him?

A few days before she received First Communion, she asked to go to Confession even though it had been less than a week since she had last been (she frequently has asked to go since her first time in November). She had been having an especially difficult time behaving herself in the days leading up to First Communion (I wondered if she were under a little spiritual attack), and she knew that you need a clean heart and soul to receive the Eucharist. We weren’t able to get her there since our access to weekday Confession is very limited, so I explained to her that her sins were not so serious that she couldn’t simply pray and ask for forgiveness and the grace to behave better. But, I was in awe of the fact that she understood how important it is to be well-prepared to receive the Lord. How often have I put off going to Confession for a long time and didn’t think twice about all the “little” sins that made my heart and soul less-than-pure for the Lord? I pray at each Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” but do I really think about the meaning of these words, and how I could prepare better so as to be a little more worthy next time? It’s so easy for adults to take reception of the Eucharist for granted, as if we are entitled to it under any circumstance. 

Rose may have learned the proper words, actions, and doctrines from her father and me, but the proper interior disposition of joy and reverence can only come from the Holy Spirit. It’s acquired most easily by those with an innocent, child-like faith. I confess that despite my head knowledge and my going through all the correct motions, I frequently fall far short of the mark when it comes to that proper disposition of heart and soul. We adults can all too easily feel overly secure and superior in our faith because of our theological intelligence and our years of practice at doing things the right way. We can forget that, while important, these things do not equate to a close relationship with the Lord, or a strong faith. Rose inadvertently reminded me of that, and inspired me to try to do much better so that I can be more like her.

I’ve been thinking with sadness about all the children who made their First Confessions and received their First Communions this year with the same joy and sure-faith that Rose demonstrated, but whose parents will not bring them back to the Sacraments on a regular basis now that they have reached this milestone. First Confession and First Communion (like Baptism and Confirmation) are too often viewed by parents as boxes to check off because they are just what Catholics are supposed to do. Then, their children’s innocent longing for the grace and freedom of Confession and for the deeply personal relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist goes unfulfilled – and eventually fades away. It’s an incredible tragedy. I may not be responsible for the genesis of Rose’s pure love for Jesus in the Eucharist, but I am responsible for nourishing it. I pray that I will always take that grave responsibility seriously, and that, in the process, I can continue learn just as much (or more!) from Rose as she is learning from me.  

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Communion Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Mary P. Sacraments Sacred Scripture

His Flesh Is True Food

last supper3

“Take and eat; this is my body… Drink from [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:26-27).

These are Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, on the first “Holy Thursday,” as he offered to his apostles what appeared to be bread and wine. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus meant these words quite literally, just like when he said “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Thus, we remember the Last Supper not just as Jesus’ last meal with his apostles before his betrayal, but as the event at which he instituted the Eucharist and established the priesthood.

The mystery of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist is central to our faith; yet so many Catholics do not believe it. I admit it’s intellectually difficult to grasp (which is why it’s a mystery), but that’s why Jesus told us that we must have the faith of children in order to enter Heaven. In my experience, children readily accept the mystery of the Eucharist even though they do not fully understand it. They are awed, rather than disturbed, by the idea that Jesus offers his true body and blood for us to consume.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that the beautiful white marble “box” at the front of our church held Jesus. I remember wondering how Jesus’ body could fit into such a small space, and thinking maybe all the marble stretching out on either side was also part of his tomb. Or maybe it was just his bones stacked up in that small compartment, rather than his whole body. Either way, I believed that what my mom said was true. Jesus was present there.

I don’t remember when I realized what my mother had meant – that what was inside the tabernacle was Jesus’ body, blood, eucharist-640x494soul, and divinity disguised by the appearance of bread. But I know I believed that as much as I believed my mother when I thought she was talking about Jesus’ corpse or his bones. I don’t remember questioning it until I was about 19 or 20 years old. When I was 16, I tried to convince my non-Catholic friend that the Eucharist was really Jesus just by reading from John 6. In my simple faith, I assumed he didn’t believe it only because he had never read that part of the Bible. Needless to say, he was not convinced.

I was a freshman in college when influences in my life caused me to doubt the truth of the Catholic faith. I didn’t reject or cease to practice it. I simply went about my normal life, but with the nagging thought that maybe what I had always believed was not true. Sometimes accompanying that thought was a suffocating anxiety and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was scared of the prospect of abandoning the faith I grew up with. I realized I had to counteract those voices speaking against my faith, so I started researching online to understand more of the “whys” behind the “whats.” I wanted to know the Capital-T-Truth, even if it hurt me, and hurt my family, and made my world come crashing down. I didn’t want just to do and believe what was comfortable.

I don’t know how long I spent researching, or all the different subjects I read about, but I do remember the flashing neon sign indicating that I had found the Truth I sought. That sign was a website about Eucharistic miracles. I read about an 8th century monk who was doubting Transubstantiation. One day when he said the words of the Consecration, the bread and wine changed visibly into flesh and blood in his hands. Those in attendance at the Mass also saw it, and spread news of the occurrence far and wide. The piece of flesh and the coagulated drops of blood remain uncorrupted, and are on display in the town of Lanciano, Italy, where this miracle occurred. The flesh and blood have undergone many investigations of their authenticity, including in the 20th century with modern research tools and methods. Each investigation has confirmed that this is indeed true human flesh and blood, inexplicably preserved. Among other amazing findings, scientists have identified the flesh as heart tissue, and the blood as type AB.

LangianoThe miracle at Lanciano is one of the most famous and earliest of recorded Eucharistic miracles, but countless others have occurred over the centuries, often to strengthen the faith of doubting priests. When I studied abroad in 2005, I had the privilege of seeing a blood-stained cloth from a Eucharistic miracle that occurred in another Italian city, Bolsena (the cloth is displayed in nearby Orvieto). There are also accounts of saints who subsisted for years on the Eucharist, consuming nothing else. Then there are the personal stories of the faithful, which remain hidden in their hearts – not stories of bread and wine visibly becoming flesh and blood, but stories of physical, mental, and spiritual restoration after receiving the Eucharist; stories of an overwhelming sense of peace when praying in front of the Host in adoration; stories of an inexplicable longing for that “bread and wine.”

Truthfully, Eucharistic miracles and the doctrine of Transubstantiation defy all human logic. How is it possible for what looks like bread and wine to be the flesh and blood of Jesus? How can He be present in every tabernacle and at every Mass world-wide at once? How can a piece of bread visibly transform into human flesh in the hands of a doubting priest? How is it possible that the piece of flesh along with the drops of blood remain uncorrupted hundreds of years later? Scripture says, all things are possible with God. These things are not any less possible than God becoming man, dying on a cross, and rising again.

Using your intellect alone to try to make sense of these mysteries is not going to get you anywhere. It will not suddenly lead to belief in the heart of a persistently disbelieving person. You easily could write off the miracles as hoaxes or works of satan. It wasn’t my intellect that told me “this is the Truth” when I read about these miracles. The neon sign that I spoke of was illuminated by the light of faith. I just KNEW in my heart and soul that these were real. And knowing that the Catholic Church got this truth right helped me to know that she really is who she claims to be.

I have read many arguments for a literal interpretation of John 6 (see herehere, and here for examples). I want to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks.” These arguments satisfied my intellect in a manner that was complementary to the faith that I had been granted by God as a gift. When John 6 is read without that supernatural faith, the concept of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is easily dismissed as ridiculous and untenable, even by those who call themselves Catholic. But when God gives you the “ears to hear” and “eyes to see,” it becomes so clear that it’s impossible to read Scripture otherwise.

Utmost reverence shown toward the Eucharist greatly aids the nourishment of that gift of faith. I long for the days when the tabernacle was a focal point of every church, when people kneeled to receive our Lord, didn’t make idle conversation inside the nave of the church, genuflected with awareness of what they were doing, sang sacred hymns during Mass, and dressed up for church like they were going to meet a King. Those things clearly communicated the belief that Jesus really meant what he said. Without them, it’s much easier to lose that child-like faith that Jesus is really there inside that marble box and those golden vessels.