My oldest child received his First Holy Communion last month! The best and most important thing about that day was obviously the gift of Jesus himself, given to my son in the Eucharist for the first time. Obviously. My heart was overflowing with emotion - joy, pride, humbleness, gratitude - at the immensity of the intimate moment between my Lord and my son. But my heart was filled with a different kind of happiness as well, for we were able to celebrate his First Communion in the way that I had long desired.
The story sort of begins several years ago when I had very emphatically urged my husband to agree with me - we had to change parishes. I had my "serious" reasons for leaving and he had his "serious" reasons for staying. I couldn't persuade him and eventually made my peace with the fact that this was a decision for him to make as the head of our family. I would follow his lead in obedience and not pester him about it again. I had no idea at the time that remaining in our current parish would play a role in having a future prayer of my heart answered...
Because then the story begins again last year when we were given permission, albeit hesitantly, from our parish Director of Lifelong Faith Formation to prepare Aaron ourselves for his First Confession (as opposed to sending him to religious education at the church.) At that time I had also asked if there was any chance he could receive his First Communion that year as well - a year earlier than usual, as our parish reserves First Communion for third graders. Sort of selfishly, I suppose, I wanted my children to be able to receive the sacraments when we thought they were reasonably ready, not according to the parish timetable based on age instead of individual readiness. It seemed to me that my request was evaded for a while and then eventually denied, and I was given the impression that it was a decision that came from our new pastor. I was disappointed, but didn't pursue it, primarily because Aaron himself didn't seem too eager to jump from one new sacrament into the next, but also because we liked the new pastor, and felt that perhaps we were being called to practice patience and dying to our own desires through deference and obedience to his leadership.
While it still nagged at me, it had become an issue about which I could do nothing. Within the course of the next year there was a new Director in the Faith Formation Office, and we received the letters reminding us of all the expectations and meeting dates, etc... for the kids receiving First Confession and First Communion in the new year. I grumbled and rolled my eyes, and grudgingly went to the first scheduled meeting for parents of the First Communicants. My husband and I had decided, after all, that we would defer to our parish on the matter of the sacraments and would honor the decisions our pastor made on the matter. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have been so grumbly about leaving the house for that first meeting - you know, modeling cheerful obedience and all for my kids ;)
To make a long story short (sort of), that meeting proved to be an answer to prayer. The new Director surprised me with his encouragement, faithfulness, and enthusiasm, but he really got my attention when, toward the end of the meeting he said something like, "And if you're out of town the weekend of the First Communion, that's not a problem at all. Fr. M__ and I agree wholeheartedly that our parish operates on a "readiness model" and your sons and daughters will be able to receive the sacraments when they're ready. If that's not the scheduled First Communion weekend, that is fine." What?!?!?! Did he just address one of the deepest desires of my heart in a let's-wrap-up-this-meeting off-handed remark? I introduced myself to him afterward, assured him I'd love to hear more about that "readiness model," and told him I'd be in touch. I'm pretty sure I went out to my car in the church parking lot singing God's praises out loud that night -- our pastor and I actually wanted the same thing for my children!
Both Aaron and Dominic have since received sacraments according to their readiness. Dominic made his First Confession the first weekend of Lent and Aaron received his First Communion the first Sunday after Easter. Both occasions brought me so much joy, for in addition to being occasions of immeasurable outpouring of grace upon my sons, the sacraments were celebrated just how I believed was perfect for our family.
Since we homeschool and provide our own religious instruction at home, the 40 some other children in the First Communion class were not friends of Aaron's. I think making his First Communion among a crowd of children he didn't know would have been much less meaningful for him and our whole family, than perhaps for the other boys and girls who were excited about receiving the sacrament with their friends. I was much happier having Aaron surrounded at his First Communion by the men, women, children, and families we see each weekend at Mass.
That morning before Mass (Divine Mercy Sunday, no less!), our pastor greeted us and told us more than once how much he was in favor of families "presenting their children for the sacraments" before the community and celebrating in this way! He chatted with Aaron and our other children, congratulated Aaron and fed his excitement a little before Mass began. Father announced at the beginning Mass that it was Aaron's First Communion and invited our family to go up before the rest of the congregation for Communion. Aaron received lots of love and congratulations from the community afterwards. He received a card from our Mass friend, Mrs. Trudy, and even was given some small cash gifts from people we don't know very well! We took his picture with the pastor and our deacon. We had a small brunch at home afterward to celebrate, much like we do every Sunday after Mass, but this time there was cake! And that was it. As far as I was concerned, it was perfect. Aaron was ready to receive the sacrament, and he did in a way that suited our family, and was special to him and our community.
I am still praising and thanking God that it happened this way. I couldn't have planned it better. Truly, there was no planning involved; it was an answer to prayer that was a also a lesson in obedience and patience.