by Father Mark Goldasich
I had to check my math twice, but this past May was indeed the 60th anniversary of my first Communion at St. John the Baptist Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
Three years ago, a classmate of mine posted a picture on Facebook of that first Communion — all the boys in suits and girls in white dresses — standing in front of the altar. I still remember almost all the names of the 45 kids pictured there — 19 girls and 26 boys — along with our pastor Msgr. Charles Stimac. That photo stirred up many memories and garnered some 46 comments online.
Many years later, my mom and I were heading out to lunch after a first Communion Mass at my parish in Tonganoxie.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, “I sat down and figured out that since my first Communion, I’ve received Communion over 19,710 times!”
Mom said nothing.
“I’d think,” I continued, “that after receiving Communion so many times, I’d be a lot holier than I actually am!”
With a wisdom that only a mom could have, she replied, “Well, just think of what you’d be like if you hadn’t received Communion so many times!”
Well, that shut me up!
That long-ago conversation reminded me of the following story:
A churchgoer sent a letter to the editor of his local newspaper and complained that it made “no sense” to go to church every Sunday. He wrote: “I’ve gone to church for 30 years now, and in that time, I’ve heard something like 3000 sermons. For the life of me, I can’t remember a single one. So, I think I’m wasting my time, and the preachers and priests are wasting theirs as well.”
Not surprisingly, this started a huge controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column.
Much to the delight of the editor (and her circulation manager), the debate went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I can’t recall the entire menu for a single one. I do know this, however: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today.
“Likewise, if I’d not gone to church for nourishment, I’d be spiritually dead today!”
Every year as I celebrate a first Communion Mass, I marvel at the eagerness and excitement displayed by the kids. They challenge me to examine if I’m still excited to receive Communion or if I’ve come to take it for granted. Do I appreciate that Jesus literally comes to dwell within me?
It’s so easy for us Catholics to only see Mass as an obligation and fail to grasp the miracle that surrounds us there. Theology teaches us that Jesus is truly among us in four places when we gather for Mass: Jesus is seen in the person of the priest; in the Scripture readings, especially the Gospel; in holy Communion; and in the people gathered in church, the congregation, the body of Christ.
Sadly, many people flock to see “miracles” like a crying statue or the face of Jesus on a tortilla but miss the greatest miracle that is right before their eyes at every Eucharist.
If you’re reading The Leaven, then you’re very likely not someone who takes a “summer vacation” from Mass. However, I suspect that all of us would benefit from paying more attention while there. You might start by recognizing Jesus not only in holy Communion, but in your fellow parishioners — which might be a real miracle for some!
By the way, I’ve now received Communion some 23,000 times . . . and, thanks to my mom, I shudder to think what I’d be like without it!