I IMAGINE THAT readers of this column have attended a First Communion Mass. In my years as a priest, I have attended many.
Back in April, I was at a First Communion Mass that moved me to have many thoughts about the Eucharist and about the place it should have in every Catholic’s life.
Perhaps the great temptation for Catholics who take their faith seriously and express their commitment by attending Sunday Mass is to allow the mysterious experience of attending a Eucharist to become routine. The same temptation can come to a priest who celebrates Mass every day.
One way of enkindling our faith and reminding ourselves about the awe and wonder that our faith in the Eucharist should cause in us, is through days of recollection and prayer, or by making a retreat. The break in our schedule, the dedicating of special time to prayer and reflection can be a renewing experience. Special times of prayer and reflection can help us see more deeply into our faith. Reading and listening to others express their faith can help us to believe on a deeper level.
Special sacramental celebrations can also help us to see more deeply into what we believe. I find being the Church’s witness at a marriage an awesome and inspiring experience. Especially awesome is witnessing the man and woman exchange vows.
When I ask whether they are ready to take one another for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts them, and they answer that they are, I am tempted to say, “You’re kidding!” I have never done that – and I never will – but it is a temptation because the vows are so awesome. They are a marvelous sign of tremendous love, a sign that two people are so in love that they freely make those solemn vows.
One day in a philosophy class at St. John’s University, I mentioned how awesome I found marriage vows, and a young man raised his hand and said, “Nobody means those words. It’s just a custom.” I hope he was wrong.
At the First Communion Mass I attended in April, I thought about the nature of the Catholic community. All of us are tied together by God, and we influence one another. While I couldn’t know the level of faith of anyone present at that Eucharist, myself included, those in attendance were a wonderful sign to me.
The presence of everyone, from those receiving communion for the first time to the concelebrants and homilist, from the parents and leader of song, to the godparents and those who prepared the children to receive the sacrament, made an impression on me. The unselfishness that went into making the ceremony beautiful was a symbol of what it means to be part of the Catholic community. I had brothers and sisters in Christ in that church; we have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
On every level of being human we co-exist with others, and others can have a profound influence on us. Karl Marx was one of the first philosophers who emphasized this. I immediately think of how we depend on others for meaning. From parents to teachers to the media, we receive interpretations of meaning, from the meaning of our country to the meaning of ourselves. We also co-exist with others on the level of emotion. Spend time with people who are sad, it will be difficult to be happy; spend time with people who are happy, it will be difficult to be sad.
We also depend on one another, to some extent, for our religious faith. That faith is a gift from God, but I believe others can help us to believe. In God’s providence we can influence one another in relation to our believing, trusting and loving. This is quite mysterious, but I have come to believe that other people have had an incredible influence on my life. Any goodness present in me is due to God and them. I am grateful to all of them, and to everyone at that First Communion Mass in April.
Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).