Back in those heady days just after the Vatican II Council adjourned, spiritual experiments were popping up like dandelions in May. In our parish, one of those experiments involved a dreamy, boy-band trio who provided liturgical music for the 8:30 Sunday morning Mass. With a keyboard, drums, electric guitar, and floppy haircuts, these boys were Justin Bieber before Justin Bieber was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Girls like my sisters would swoon when Tim Piper, the wholesomely handsome lead vocalist, would fix his teeny-bopper gaze on them, while crooning, such blockbuster liturgical hits as, “Sons of God,” “Hear, Oh Lord,” or “Gonna Sing My Lord.” Alas, all good things must come to an end. Puberty put an end to Tim Piper’s singing career, and with it, our parish’s boy-band experiment.
Around that time, my avant garde school decided to conduct another spiritual experiment that involved me. In 1967, it was decided that those First Grade students who had reached the age of reason (i.e. seven years old) before the end of the month of January would be allowed to receive their First Communion with the Second Graders. And so, when the rest of my classmates were studying mathematics, my fellow pre-Aquarian First Grade comrades and I were escorted over to the Second Grade classroom for First Communion training. For reasons that have never fully been disclosed, the experiment was discontinued after me. My own theory has something to do with the substandard conduct grades that I received over the course of the next four quarters subsequent to my reception of Communion. Alas, my principal, pastor, and teachers must have re-learned the old Catholic adage that grace builds on nature, and it was my nature to be the class clown for many years to come.
Many of the memories that surround my First Communion have faded like an old Polaroid photograph. What remains from that time is a life-long sense of feeling special, or chosen. What also remains from that day is the concrete memory of being told to pray for something special just before receiving my first Eucharist.
As a teenager and young adult, I hadn’t thought much about my First Communion. But Twenty-seven years later, I was required to locate a record of the sacraments that I received in grade school as a pre-requisite for the Sacrament of Matrimony. Lisa, my bride-to-be, was the one who noticed it. There it was, on a document sent from my childhood parish, in black-and-white, wedged between the date of my Baptism, and the date of my Confirmation. On the only day in the history of my parish when a First Grader was allowed to receive his First Communion…on the day that I walked up with my Brylcreemed hair slicked back, with my bow tie clasped over the top of my shiny new miraculous medal…on the day when I was praying with all my seven-year-old heart for something special…on my First Communion day…Lisa was born into the world as a down-payment on a life of immeasurable grace and richness that awaited me nearly three decades later.
I have a seven-year-old of my own now. With the age of reason, came a burning desire in Lizzie to receive her First Communion. Who was I to argue? Last weekend, I sat in the pew next to the most diminutive, First Grade Communicant you ever saw. As she stepped out of our pew, next to the towering Second Graders, I knew what was occupying her mind and heart on the way up there. She was praying just like the First Grade version of her dad all those years ago…she was praying with all her seven-year-old heart for something special. Lisa is convinced that she was praying for God to take good care of the husband she is going to meet someday.
One of the benefits that comes from a multi-generational approach to the spiritual life, is the opportunity to look at that journey through fresh eyes. A couple of days before the big day, I asked Lizzie to construct a brief essay outlining what receiving her First Communion meant to her. Here is what she wrote.
I get to receive more of God’s light.
I get to receive Jesus.
I get to pray more.
I can feel more happy.
I can feel more alive.
I can follow Jesus even more.
I can find out how much God and Jesus love me.
I can pray bigger prayers with the gifts
I get from communion.”
On this, the Third Sunday of the Easter Season, I offer Lizzie’s reflection as a kind of Easter examination of Conscience.
When was the last time you asked to receive more light, or more Jesus? Does your spiritual journey make you happier, or more alive? When was the last time you asked for the grace of prayer? Do you have a felt sense of how much the Father and Jesus really love you? Finally, have your prayers gotten too small? Do you need to be praying “bigger” prayers? When was the last time you dared to pray with your whole heart for something really special on the way up to communion?