This past Sunday, my son celebrated his fifth communion. I know because he told me. He’s been counting and says he plans to keep counting until he is an old man hobbling down the aisle. I hope he does. Personally, I love to envision him bent over a walker, shuffling down the aisle, murmuring, “three thousand nine hundred ninety-two.”
His first trip down the aisle was marked with youthful vigor and enthusiasm. He shot out the side of the pew, clapped his hands together, marched with surgical precision, and bowed deeply before his Lord. And I cried a little. This was a big joyful day for us.
One after another, girls in veils and boys in ties made their first march down the aisle. The importance of the act was not lost upon them. Each step, each movement was performed with such care because those second graders understood that receiving the consecrated Host was different than having a Cheez-It placed in their hands. It was God himself. They were a good reminder to all of us adults who probably haven’t been counting our number of trips down the aisle toward our Lord.
I’m not sure if complacency is a sin, but it certainly must be a gateway to sin. After logging several trips, we aren’t always keenly aware of who is waiting for us at the end of the aisle, the foot of the altar. We are perhaps too human in that we fall into routine too easily. Sign of the cross, stand, sit, sing, kneel, walk, eat, sit . . . we do them all on cue mindlessly, blindly. Do we treasure the Eucharist? Do we long for that personal moment with Jesus when we take him into our bodies and become so closely united with him? Do we return to the pew to plan dinner or to thank Jesus for dying on the cross for us and then listen for his voice to speak to us?
A recent reading from Luke 24:13-35 told the story of two disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were downcast and forlorn (which actually looks a lot like most of us when we think Jesus has abandoned us). A “stranger” joined the conversation and accompanied the disciples to Emmaus. All through the day, the disciples shared the story of the crucifixion and resurrection with this stranger. Now this is why I love the disciples. They are so like us in our humanity that they spent the entire afternoon with Jesus and simply didn’t recognize him. At dinner the stranger took the bread, blessed it, and broke it. That was the moment when “their eyes were opened” and the disciples recognized Jesus. At long last the disciples realized that the risen Lord had been with them all the way to Emmaus. Victims of their own narrow and reasoning, the disciples were unable to see Jesus until Jesus reminded them that he had promised to be with them always. Two thousand years later, Jesus remains with us always and that should be as much of a miracle to us as it was to the disciples with whom he walked that long dusty road to Emmaus.
I bought my son a velvet lined wooden box meant to hold his rosaries. The lid of the box is inscribed with the words from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” On the bottom of the box, I wrote a message that I hope will remain with him as he goes from his first communion to his 3992nd,
“Happy first Communion! We are grateful to be your parents. You are a blessing to us. We pray that you will grow a deep love for and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. May it always strengthen you and fortify your faith. It is God’s gift to you. Love, Mom and Dad.”
The Eucharist does strengthen us. It empowers us to withstand temptations, to do what is right, to endure the trials and sufferings of this life. How wise is our Lord to remind us we are the people of the risen Lord. How blessed are we that every Sunday we walk to the foot of the altar, reach out our hands, and receive the gift of Jesus. Let’s pray for our eyes to be opened, so we may recognize Him when he is placed in our hands.