Saturday, June 2, 2018

First Communion, Last Communion, and all the ones in between


Earlier this week, I was called to the ICU at the hospital for an urgent call for someone who was near death. The person in question had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more on that day to be reconciled. I spent some time in conversation, and then brought the grace that comes from the Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened incredulous, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and then I gave communion to someone with the most beaming face I’ve ever seen. As I left that hospital room, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

Today we the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. Too often we don’t really think about the Eucharist that much; we receive the Eucharist often out of habit more than an action of faith. For me, this feast calls to mind different powerful experiences of the Eucharist; those First Communions as we experienced a few weeks ago in the parish; the Last Communions like I experienced this week, and the many others in between.

Think of the little girl or boy, dressed in white, approaching the altar for their First Holy Communion. There have already been big events in their lives – birthdays, Christmas celebrations, the first day of school. But, this First Holy Communion is in many ways the climax of their young lives. We all witness that as the children move expectantly towards the altar; their eyes transfixed on the Host. With practiced hands they receive the Host and pass it reverently to their lips. God is with these children now, in a temple innocent and pure.

We also think of the woman or man waiting on their deathbed for the last Holy Communion. There have been big events in their lives too – wedding days, the birth of children, the first time they were called “Mom” or “Grampa.” And now with their last Holy Communion comes the climax of their final years. The priest moves near. They open their eyes as they did in their childhood, raise their white-haired head from the pillow and welcome the Savior with all of the fervor their body will allow. God is with them now, and will be with them for all eternity.

The First Holy Communion is always a fervent one. So is the Last Holy Communion. We bring to the first one the freshness of youth; we bring to the last one the clarity that age brings to life. But, how about today – we find ourselves at one of those countless Holy Communions in between. How can we renew that fervor for Jesus in the Eucharist today and come to understand its value in our lives?

In Holy Communion, Jesus nourishes us. He gives us food for our souls. In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we will thrive spiritually on the body and blood of Christ.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. We know in life that people can be close to each other in many ways – as fellow workers, as friends. The most intimate human relationship we know is that of two united through marriage. But, the closest intimacy possible for us is the intimacy found in the Eucharist. Again Jesus says in John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, like in marriage, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Holy Communion.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. It is not just my personal communion with Christ; it is our shared communion with each other in Christ. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is not a personal sacrament; it is not a straight line of contact between you and Jesus alone. It is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, in front and behind. As members of this community, we are not like stones scattered around a field; instead we are likes stones built up into a wall, keeping each other in place and being kept in place by others. When we stand before this altar, it is a sign of our love for each other, a pledge of kindness and compassion towards each other – a love that finds its source in the Eucharist; in this Eucharist.

Finally, reception of Holy Communion is an assurance of our Heavenly destiny. Jesus said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person on the last day.” Our individual resurrection may seem remote to us now at this point in our lives, so remote that our mind can’t focus on it. But, as remote as it may seem, the Resurrection is the one event on which we base all our hope. Death never wins the day; Heaven does. Every time. We are not born for death; we are born for eternity; for Heaven. And we have it on the word of our Savior that, if we are faithful to the Eucharist, we too will rise on the Last Day. It is a mighty thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought.

And so we pray today that through the great gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven. May God increase in us our love and devotion for the Body and Blood of His Son.

And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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