by Father Mark Goldasich
That’s how many times I’ve received Communion in my life. It boggles the mind.
As last Sunday’s Gospel spoke about the Jesus being “made known . . . in the breaking of bread” (Lk 24:35), I had to ask myself if I — after so many Communions — take that gift for granted and not appreciate what a treasure it is.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in feeling this way. That’s why it’s such a wonderful thing to celebrate first Communion at this time of year. The eagerness of those second-graders to receive Jesus in the Eucharist gives me pause.
The reverence with which they approach the altar humbles me. And the celebration that follows the Mass is a fitting conclusion to the incredible thing that just happened: The risen Jesus literally became part of those children’s bodies for the first time.
I often tell the kids in my homily that this food from heaven is absolutely special. I remind them that when we eat a hot dog, for example, the hot dog turns into us in the form of nourishment.
But with holy Communion, the opposite happens: When we consume the body and blood of Jesus, we instead turn into him.
Of course, St. Augustine said it much more eloquently: “You will not change Me into you as with bodily food; rather, you will be changed into Me.”
That means our lives can never be the same. We literally become tabernacles, giving Jesus a home within us.
And just as we’d never tolerate desecrating the tabernacle in church, so we should never disrespect each other, for Communion means we each carry Jesus within us.
Sometimes, people avoid the first Communion Mass because it’s longer than a “regular” Mass.
While that’s true, the witness of those young girls and boys — and the challenge they give to us about getting excited whenever we’re privileged to receive Jesus — is more than worth it.
But it doesn’t end there. This story told by Jesuit Father Mark Link makes the point well:
A religious education teacher asked students in her confirmation class which part of the Mass was the most important.
One teenager said, “The dismissal rite is the most important.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the teacher.
She replied, “The purpose of the Eucharist is to nourish us with the word of the Lord and the body and blood of the Lord, so that we can go forth to bear witness to the Lord and to bring the kingdom of God into existence.
“The Eucharist doesn’t end with the dismissal rite. In a sense, it begins with it. We must go forth and proclaim to the world what the disciples of Emmaus did. We must proclaim that Jesus is risen, that Jesus lives on.” (This story is adapted from Brian Cavanaugh’s “Sower’s Seeds Aplenty: Fourth Planting.”)
That teenager is absolutely correct. A good place to start this proclamation of the good news is at another table: the one in our homes.
In our overly busy world, it’s tough for families to make the time to eat together.
While doing this every night is probably close to impossible, why not start small? Just as the church asks us to gather at least once a week, set a goal for one family meal around the table each week. It should be a priority in everyone’s schedule.
Additionally, make that meal time a cellphone-free, TV- free gathering. Rediscover how nice it is to actually be present to the people you’re dining with.
Perhaps folks would be more open to a family dinner if we made it something special. How about putting a tablecloth out if your table is not normally covered? Decorate it with candles and flowers. Use the “good” dishes and the “fancy” silverware. Heck, haul out the cloth napkins as well, and maybe put on some quiet music in the background.
Celebrating food and family is not just for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter; make it a weekly tradition.
Because we enjoy such an abundance of food in this country, we forget what a blessing it is. Start every meal with prayer, like we do at church.
And when it’s over, see all the tasks of cleaning up as an opportunity for Christian service.
At least for the rest of this Easter season, let the fruits of the sacramental table spread to our family tables. May we be dismissed from Mass only to find the risen Christ at our home table as we break bread together.
Now back to those 20,000 Communions I’ve received. I told my mom I thought I should be holier than I am because of them.
Her response was deflating: “Just think what you’d be like if you hadn’t received so many Communions!”
I shudder to think!