Happy Easter! Alleluia! Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese! (Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!)
Parson my absence from this site. I really took some great time this Holy Week to attend many Masses and Church services (Chrism Mass, Mass of the Lord's Supper, Tenebrae, Easter Vigil, etc.) to help me immerse in the Triduum and spiritually prepare for a glorious Easter Season. Now, it's back to work for this blogger and educator.
This post has been rolling around in my head for the past week and a half. I finally have the courage (and proper words) to share it. I have an 8 year-old niece who is preparing to make her First Communion on Sunday. I couldn't be more excited for her, but I had a really sad moment with her in the car about 10 days ago.
We were driving to her mom's house and used the 40 minute drive to blare some music. She was using my tablet and put on some country music she knew. I had to burst out laughing when she started singing about "drinking cheap wine". When I told her I was laughing at her singing about drinking, she said, "What? I'll be drinking it in two weeks!" I chuckled, turned down the radio, and decided to take advantage of this catechetical moment.
"Well, J, you know it isn't really wine. It's Jesus' Blood."- Aunt Kathy
"No, it's not."- J
"Yes, honey. It is. A miracle happens every time we go to Mass. We don't know how it happens, but we know the bread changes to Jesus' Body and the wine becomes his Blood." -Aunt Kathy
"It does not." -J
"It looks like bread and wine. It tastes the same, but it's very different." Aunt Kathy
At this point, I decide to drop it. J is giving me annoyed looks and shaking her head. She has had a long, exhausting weekend. She is tired and cranky. She has to get up for school in 12 hours. Now is not the time to argue about transubstantiation.
I wait a few days and bring this to my mother's attention. Mom has been J's primary catechist (more on that later). Mom is a high school theology teacher with an M.A. in theology. She is floored when I tell her this. "We've had conversations about it, not just what's in her book. I was sure she understood it." Mom is used to working with older kids. I reassure her that this is very normal and she shouldn't feel bad. I just reiterate the importance to talk with her some more in the next week or two.
My brother has been in and out of the Catholic faith since he was a teen. Right now, he attends Mass but doesn't receive Communion or practice much beyond that. He is an amazing father who support J 100% on her faith journey. She was baptized as an infant, but only one of her godparents was Catholic. My sister doesn't attend Mass right now, so that leaves my parents and I to help J on her faith journey. My brother has always left it up to her: if she wants to keep studying the faith, she can. He will not force her to receive the sacraments.
J spends 5 days/week living in a very small town that's predominantly Amish and Mennonite. The nearest Catholic Church is about 20 miles from where she is. No one on her mom's side of the family practices any religion (to my knowledge). On the weekends, she is at my brother's and often spends about half that visit with my parents. There, she leads us in grace and attends Mass. Starting around the age of 5, she would point to the altar during the consecration and say, "When can I do that?"
We talked about waiting until 2nd grade. We showed her the photos of my siblings and I receiving First Communion. Since RE classes didn't fit with her visitation schedule, my mom began home schooling her for religious instruction beginning in 1st grade. She seemed to enjoy her studies.
This year was the big year. She received Reconciliation a couple of months ago. Last weekend she attended a retreat where she baked bread, make a craft depicting Real Presence, and practiced receiving Communion. All that, combined with her studies and regular Mass attendance and she's still fighting me on Real Presence. Sigh. My mom and I have failed her and the Church... or have we?
A few days before this discussion with J, I read this amazing blog post. I thought of my dad- a Byzantine Catholic who switched to the Roman Rite around age 7 or 8 when his parents made the decision to switch. He received all 3 Sacraments of Initiation as a child. I thought of those 3 years of J asking for when she could receive the Eucharist. Would she have ever doubted if we had just been able to say, "That's Jesus. Would you like to receive Him next weekend?"
I could go on for pages, but I won't. J is a little girl who loves going to Mass. When she received her Rice Bowl, she emptied all 3 of her piggy banks (spend, save, and share- her tithing bank) into her Rice Bowl. Every time she earned money this Lent, she put all of it into her Rice Bowl. When the parish did a survey and wanted feedback from teens through adults, she spent nearly an hour trying to understand the survey and filling it out even though she's just a kid. She brought it to the pastor who agreed to take her feedback into account along with the adults of the parish because she cared so much. On Easter morning, she hustled everyone to the car in hopes of getting there in time to bring up the gifts. Her favorite song at Mass is the Alleluia. On Easter Sunday, when the opening chords of the organ rang out before the gospel, she leapt to her feet with a grin on her face, touched her hand to her heart, and sighed with contentment. So, do I have any doubt J is ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist? No, I don't.
It took me a few days to get past this. I didn't fail J. My mom didn't fail J. The parish DRE didn't fail J. The Catholic faith failed her. Using traditional means of catechesis don't help children connect with Christ and the Sacraments. We teach to the head and not the heart. So, when I tried to speak to J's heart about the Eucharist, she just wasn't there. I think her head gets it. I don't want to insist on holding her back from the sacrament. I am sure she is not the only one who will be there next week who doesn't fully understand that Jesus is the Eucharist. I can only stand back and pray that she feels it. I can trust the sacramental graces to do their work and bring J closer to Christ.
So, what does this have to do with the purpose of First Catechists? I'm trying to show how tough it is to raise a child in the faith. J attends Mass flocked by two theologians and even we couldn't fully help her prepare for First Communion. She is only being exposed to the faith 2 days/week. She needs to live it and breathe it on a daily basis. We do our best with the time and resources we have. I am proud that she wants to stay Catholic and wants to make First Communion. Our family will continue to do the best we can for J. I'll trust J.C. to do the rest.