This week, rather than addressing a single topic, I decided to write about some events that are generally associated with May: First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and ordinations.
May is the month of choice for First Communion. I received my First Communion in May and through the years I have noticed that the majority of parishes celebrate First Communion on a Sunday in May.
Along with approximately 150 second-graders, I made my First Communion on May 20, 1951. I remember the instruction we received, the long fast (even from water) from midnight the previous evening, the prayer book I received, the girls’ white dresses and the boys’ white suits, and most especially receiving communion for the first time. It way a joyous day for me and for my family.
Pope Francis recalled his First Communion on one of his parish visits in Rome. “I received my First Communion a long time ago, October 8, 1944. I was prepared by a very good Sister, who was called Dolores, and also catechists. When the day arrived, we all entered the church with our hands folded. I shall never forget that day.” Speaking to the children who would receive their First Communion Pope Francis continued, “You, who make your First Communion, always remember that day your whole life: the first day that Jesus came into us. He comes, makes himself one with us, makes himself our food, our nourishment to give us strength” (Homily, December 15, 2014).
Do you remember your First Communion? Like myself, most of you were probably too young to appreciate the theological elements of the Eucharist. However, we knew and believed that it was not bread or wine we were receiving. It was truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In the coming years, our appreciation and love for the Eucharist would grow. There would be many other occasions to receive the Eucharist. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “the Church warmly recommends that the faithful receive Holy Communion each time they participate in the celebration of the Eucharist” (CCC, 1417).
Although the spring Confirmation schedule begins in March and continues into June, rarely a day goes by in May that I am not visiting a parish to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is a joy and pleasure to visit parish communities at this time. While my message on those occasions is directed primarily to those who are receiving Confirmation, I hope that all those present reflect on the important role that the Holy Spirit has in our lives.
The Holy Spirit enlightens our minds and hearts with the deep meaning of the teachings of Jesus and pours into our hearts the sacred gifts that empower us to live as faithful disciples of Jesus. He gives us the words to proclaim the mysteries of our faith and predisposes the hearts of those who hear the good news to be open and receptive to it.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit is the forgotten person of the Trinity. We often speak to Jesus and the Father in prayer but not so often to the Holy Spirit. Yet there are many beautiful prayers to the Holy Spirit. “Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire or your love” is one that I learned as a young boy.
This Sunday, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, we will hear the beautiful sequence, “Come Holy Spirit, come! From your celestial home shed a ray of light divine. . . . Shine within these hearts of ours, and our inmost being fill. . . . Heal our wounds, our strength renew. . . . Bend the stubborn heart and will. . . . Guide the steps that go astray. . . . On the faithful you adore . . . in your sevenfold gift descend. . . . Give them joys that never end.”
In the days and months that follow Pentecost, let us take a few minutes frequently to be still before the Lord and ask that the Holy Spirit become more real to us and draw us into a deeper and more profound relationship with God. With the Holy Spirit’s assistance, we can do our part in fulfilling the great commission to preach the good news.
May 19 will be a joyous and blessed day for me, for our diocese and the Legionaries of Christ. I will ordain ten men from our diocese to the permanent diaconate and three men as transitional deacons for the Legion of Christ Community. These men will assist the bishop and his priests in the ministry of the Word, of the altar, and of charity. As ministers of the Word, they will proclaim the Gospel. As ministers of the altar, they will prepare the sacrifice and distribute the Lord’s Body and Blood to His faithful people. As collaborators with the bishop, they will devote themselves to works of charity.
Deacons are called to a particular partnership with Jesus Christ. By ordination they are configured to Christ. They are signs of His presence among us and integral to the accomplishment of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel.
Join me in praying for the many children who have received or will be receiving their First Communions this month. May their first reception of Jesus’ Body and Blood be followed by frequent and worthy reception of the Eucharist. We remember also our youth receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. May they always be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and guided by His inspiration. May the soon-to-be-ordained deacons follow faithfully in the steps of Jesus who came among us not to be served but to serve.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.