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Friday, May 15, 2015

Laughs, Tears and My Son's First Communion...

The Body of Christ...
"Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." 1 Cor 10:17.

It was at the most solemn and sacred moment of the Mass.  The entire congregation fell on its knees in silence and reverence (with the exception of a crying baby in the back of the parish), as the priest began the prayer of consecration to turn the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the Eucharist, pinnacle and summit of our faith as Catholics, and, the reason we were gathered at church that Saturday afternoon for our children's First Holy Communion.

All of a sudden, in what looked like a scene from a Peter Sellers or Mel Brooks' movie, a little heavyset boy (to be politically correct) sitting in his tight white suit in the pew in front of us, slipped on the kneeler and started sinking into the abyss underneath the bench he had just been sitting on, as his body and face contorted in despair, while the boy next to him ducked for cover to avoid being dragged down by the grasping hand of the first boy, trying to keep himself from going under.

A teacher nearby, quickly lunged over a couple of other students in the way, reminiscent, I suppose, of when Jesus reached for Peter, as he sank while trying to walk on water.  She got him just in the nick of time and was able to lift him back unto his knees before the pew monster swallowed him hole and, as she let go of his arm, the boy's other knee slipped and the process started all over again. 

Only this time, the teacher couldn't control her laughter and had to turn her face so that the boy didn't see her laughing at him, as everyone around us chuckled, while the poor chubby kid tried to regain his balance and finally pushed himself up and got both knees firmly planted.

It was a brief moment of levity amidst the tears during the Sacrament.  Sort of like the first time I watched The Passion of the Christ with my wife during Holy Week in England (Come to think of it, when she was pregnant with our son!), and, just as our emotions were pushed to the limit during the scourging at the pillar scene, and, with her hormones out of whack, she worse than I (although not by much), there was a commercial break, which allowed us to breathe and gather ourselves before continuing to watch the rest of the heart-wrenching film.

Then again, I love a good cry!  In his book, Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote, "We need never be ashamed of our tears," and, those that have gotten to know me over the last several years, know that I'm certainly not ashamed of mine.  In fact, I embrace them whenever caught in the moment.

I can't help it.  Especially, when it comes to faith and family, the floodgates are just a minor tug away from opening up at any time.  In fact, it's a running joke around the home-front about whether Daddy is crying; again!  Even my seven-year-old boy likes to rib his old man! (No, I'm not going Bruce Jenner any time soon!  But, since when is it wrong for a middle-aged man to show a little emotion, for goodness sake?)

I cry at movies.  I cry with books.  I cry during sentimental Christmas commercials and sad songs on the radio.  I cry at weddings (including my own, and not just because life as I knew it was over!).  I cry in the talks I give at retreats for my men's group (In fact, they usually bring up Kleenex tissues before I begin, although, I must say, there's another guy that beats me in the tear department and a couple of others that can stand toe-to-toe with me!).  I even choke up at awards banquets, as I did recently while I introduced a great friend being honored with a lifetime achievement award in television news. (There's nothing like shedding a few tears in front of a room full of hard nosed, cut-throat, veteran journalists, I say!)

Needless to say, I lost it at both of our daughters' First Communion, and, the only thing that kept me from crying at our older daughter's Confirmation was the fact that they called her by her saint's name, Elizabeth, as in St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and I kept waiting for the Bishop to say her name, so I missed the entire ritual, only realizing what had happened when she was heading back to her seat! (I don't even want to think about their weddings!).  So, of course, it was only a matter of time before the tears started flowing at my son's.

Styling in the cool shoes...
And, it didn't take long, as I saw him walking up the center aisle wearing his white suit, much to the chagrin of my wife who wanted him to wear one of the several blue blazers he has in his closet (which turned out to be what most of the boys in his class wore), but no!  He wanted to wear white; suit, shirt, vest, tie and fashionable slip on leather shoes (which would have made Gaylord Focker, male nurse extraordinaire from Meet the Parents, envious!).  I guess it made him feel holier and holy was the name of the game for him that day.  In fact, a few weeks earlier, after his first Confession, he told me, "Daddy, I feel really holy.  I want to do this every week!"

Shortly after the homily (and the chubby kid's near debacle), the second graders started going up one at a time to receive the Sacred Host and, those that wanted, to drink from the chalice.

When it was my son's turn, he walked into the center aisle, bowed his head, as I'm sure he had rehearsed with his class dozens of times, and walked up with his left hand cupping his right.  Oh, wait, it's supposed to be the right hand cupping the left (He quickly corrected his mistake on the fly), as the Eucharist was placed in his hand.  He put it in his mouth, walked up to the chalice, taking a small sip, before returning to his pew.

Yes, that was when the floodgates opened up.  I felt the tears running down my cheek, as I tried to avoid my wife's look so that she wouldn't laugh.  I've been there before!

For me, to think that he was receiving of that One Bread, as St. Paul stated in First Corinthians, that unites us, not only with the same Jesus that walked the earth two thousand years ago, and the Father and Holy Spirit, since God is One and cannot be separated, but with me, my wife, my daughters, parents, family and friends in the most profound way, including relatives that have gone to their eternal rest like my wife's dad and my grandparents and the entire Communion of Saints; past, present and future, well, it's a bit overwhelming.  Don't you think?

I always think of St. Therese, "The Little Flower" at her First Holy Communion.  She wrote in her memoirs, Story of a Soul, that she overheard several nuns commenting about how sad it was that Therese's mom had died and wasn't there to see her receive her First Communion.  Even at her tender age, Therese was perplexed, since she knew that by receiving the Blessed Host, she would be closer to her mother than ever before! 

Our holy roller with Fr. Martin and Deacon Parlade...
So, there I was feeling the knot in my throat with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks and then, I saw the chubby kid go up.  He was cupping his left hand correctly but as the priest went to place the Eucharist in his hand, he reached out and snatched it (I'm sure to the horror of his teacher, after all the weeks and months of practice!) and then came the clincher.  He goes up to the chalice, takes a sip, turns around and makes the funniest bad taste grimace I recall having seen!  The kid was a riot.       

After having received Communion myself, as I knelt there praying and reflecting on the moment, the kids were asked to get up and recite an affirmation of faith and then it was the parents' turn.  I had forgotten my reading glasses and, halfway through the first sentence, my voice cracked, which made my wife laugh, and I got so teary-eyed that I couldn't make out the rest of what I was supposed to read, which may have been a blessing, since it would've probably have been worse if I had actually seen the words! 

As the ceremony ended, and my son walked down the aisle the same way he had walked in towards the door, I looked at the husky kid again and couldn't help but smile.  It had been an emotional roller coaster for me but, thanks to a fat little boy (There you made me say it! Are you happy?) in his ill-fitting white suit, there were interludes of laughter that made an already memorable event even more so ingrained in my memory forever.

Thank you, God...


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