One of my favorite childhood memories is my First Communion day. I know it was in May because we also had May Crowning on that same Sunday (which I learned when I became bishop was May 30, 1971). I can remember rehearsal on the day before and receiving the smart-looking white robe with two gold stripes on the front and back and a light blue Chi Rho (XP) on the front.
I remember making my First Confession on that same morning after rehearsal when I entered the Confessional box (not today’s Reconciliation Room) and found my self kneeling in a small, dark cubicle that was rather musty smelling with a sliding door and screen at eye level.
I don’t recall it being too dramatic, but I do recall our catechism lesson about sin, and our pastor, Father Howard McCasland (who had also baptized me as a week-old infant and later would vest me as a newly ordained priest), using a clear sanctuary candle to represent grace in one’s soul and a blackened, empty one to represent the effect of sin. I can also recall for the first time kneeling in church to do my penance.
I recall that when my mother and I (and of course, my twin brother) left church, we stopped at Miss Mildred Leazott’s flower garden to obtain our flowers for the May Crowning. What is most interesting about this fact is that Miss Leazott belonged to the Church of the Nazarene, but she always gave the Catholic kids in town the flowers for the May Crowning. We then proceeded a couple of blocks back to home where a surprise was waiting for my brother and me. Interestingly, I don’t remember all the details about the surprise — except meeting our new golden retriever puppy named Penny.
A final note, as neat as that present could be, I do know (and I don’t say this because I am a bishop today, but distinctively recall this fact) that the best gift of the weekend was the first time I received our Lord in Holy Communion as I knelt at the altar rail. From that moment until now, hands down as they say, there is nothing more special in my life.
I share this with you not to take you on a boring trip down Memory Lane, but as a means for each one of us to think about the importance of Holy Communion and why reverence is so important in our handling of the Blessed Sacrament as well as why there is no replacement for the Mass, as we are finding out in these particular days.
Yet, a second childhood memory that is just as vivid for me is the month of May and my parents leading us in the family Rosary as we knelt in our living room. I wish I could say that I always appreciated this time of prayer. Unfortunately, as a teenager I was often looking for an excuse for why I couldn’t join in. I am not proud of the fact that I was actually a detriment to family prayer. Nonetheless, if I can share a lesson from this period of time, it is the difference that prayer made in my life and my family’s life, whether willing participants or not.
I know this is a long preface into what I want to share in this week’s column: Pope Francis’ invitation to pray the Rosary as families in the coming month of May. He is asking families throughout the world to take time in the midst of this global pandemic to rediscover the power of prayer in the family. He wrote last week in a letter to the Catholic community:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The month of May is approaching, a time when the People of God express with particular intensity their love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is traditional in this month to pray the Rosary at home within the family. The restrictions of the pandemic have made us come to appreciate all the more this “family” aspect, also from a spiritual point of view.
For this reason, I want to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May. This can be done either as a group or individually; you can decide according to your own situations, making the most of both opportunities. The key to doing this is always simplicity, and it is easy also on the internet to find good models of prayers to follow.
I wish to add my own encouragement to our Holy Father’s so that our homes can again become the domestic Church which is the essential building block of the Universal Church, the Body of Christ. It is such prayerful communion that will allow these days to become a “new Pentecost” for the Church and the world in which it exists.
A great concern of mine is that we not waste these days of being homebound, but use them as Upper Rooms, where in prayer with Mary, Mother of the Church, we can again pray fervently for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us and upon the whole world. It is from these Upper Rooms we can return to the Upper Room where you and I can encounter the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread and receive food for the journey, so we can “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
There is much craving for the Sacraments in this moment. I am heartened by such desire, but I worry also that it may be a passing fad…that once we get fed, we will go our own ways again and forget about following the Lord. I find it interesting that I remember much more about my First Communion than I do my Confirmation, although I can recall that day as well. However, it is Confirmation that is meant to make me “a soldier (in my day)… a witness for Christ.” How seriously have I taken that commission or do I just want the title “confirmed” and its gifts, but prefer to be like the son who said “Yes” in the gospels, but never did anything in response?
On May 1 our nation and its dioceses, along with those of our Canadian neighbors, will be re-consecrated to Mary, under Mother of the Church. It is also the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, whose response to God was not verbal, but in his actions. Finally, it is as well the First Friday of the month, where we call to mind the Sacred Heart of Jesus whose love is seen in the “Word become flesh” and pray that our hearts may be like His.
Brothers and sisters, we only live once! Let us not miss this opportunity to live our lives even more fully as God’s sons and daughters. The blessings are everlasting here and into eternity! Mary, Mother of the Church, and St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for us, that our hearts may be like your Son! Amen.