Posted June 12, 2020
I remember my First Communion day very well. It was a lovely Sunday in March 1936. It was a sunny day, the church looked very beautiful, there was music. There were so many beautiful things that I remember. There were about thirty of us, boys and girls from my little village of no more than 500 inhabitants. But at the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one: I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.
So on that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning – I was nine years old – and that it was from now on important to stay faithful to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: ‘I always want to stay with you, and I prayed to him, but above all, you stay with me.’ So I went on living my life like that; thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.
So, that day of my First Communion was the beginning of a journey made together. I hope that for all of you too, the First Communion you have received will be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Jesus, the beginning of a journey together, because in walking with Jesus we do well and life becomes good.
That was Pope Benedict remembering his First Holy Communion when addressing some children who had just made theirs. He uses some evocative phrases: ‘I promised as best I could’; ‘I always want to stay with you’; ‘stay faithful to that communion’; ‘Above all, you stay with me’; ‘beginning of a journey made together’; a ‘lifelong friendship’; ‘In walking with Jesus, we do well, and life becomes good.’
Pope Benedict translates the truths of theology into the language of lived Christian piety, and for that reason it is particularly appropriate that we should reflect on those simple words of his today, because today’s feast is more about simple Christian piety than heavy doctrinal matters. The Feast of Corpus Christi (or the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, as it has been officially called since 1970) was established in the fourteenth century as a universal feast of the Western Church largely as the result of a devotional movement started a century earlier by a Belgian nun, who had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The Feast expresses the Eucharistic devotion that goes to the heart of Catholic piety and which most of us were brought up to experience and love from childhood. So both the feast itself and Pope Benedict’s words in a way recall us to our childhood, the beginnings of our piety.
The two dominant themes in Pope Benedict’s address to the children are ‘remembering’ and ‘journey’. He remembers that lovely day as the beginning of his journey through life in company with the Lord. What Pope Benedict is doing is exactly what the author of Deuteronomy is doing in the first Reading (Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16): ‘Remember!’; ‘Do not forget!’ What the Israelites are being urged to remember is the journey they began in the early days of their relationship with their saviour God, as they made their way through the desert to the promised land. What they are being urged to do is not just to remember in a purely mental sense, but to re-identify with their early history, to renew their fidelity to the God who in those days had led them and guided them through the vast wilderness and had fed them with bread from heaven. By ‘remembering’ those early days the Israelites re-enter into their relationship with the Lord and embrace it anew, for there they find the key to their past and the pattern of their future. In a similar way, Pope Benedict traces the journey he began at the time of his First Holy Communion, and today each of us is being invited to commit ourselves anew to our childhood piety and to trace the journey that began with it.
The tracing of that journey is not to be done in public, of course. It is for each one of us to do privately – hopefully with thanksgiving, though perhaps with some regret at not having lived up to the promises of our childhood devotion. Today’s feast invites us to rekindle our love and renew our commitment to the Lord, to say again ‘I always want to stay with you, and above all you stay with me’, in a lifelong friendship. And you, parents, do your utmost to foster Eucharistic devotion in your children, so that it enters vividly into their souls and becomes a pattern and a constant support for the long journey that faces them. As Pope Benedict said, their experience of the Eucharist in their childhood is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give.
Fr Tom Deidun