Checking Out The Neighbors

In a month, lawn signs will be popping up all over town touting the graduations of children from kindergarten to high school. There will be lots of posing going on as families take photo records of these moments of passage.
But before the graduation pix, if you look out your window at the neighbors who are headed off for church, you might see your neighbor’s boys dressed in suits and girls in white dresses. Countless photos are taken in front of the flowering shrubs and parking spots on the block are in short supply as all sorts of relatives arrive for the day.
So what is this all about? Each Sunday when Catholics come to church they have the opportunity to receive communion, a tradition that goes back to the night before Jesus died when he took bread and said, “Take this and eat: this is my body.” When parents bring their very little children to church, the young ones look on as their parents receive communion. Sometimes the kids say out loud what they are thinking: “I want one!” But until they are old enough to understand the belief that the host is really the way Jesus is present in this food, they are not yet able to receive communion.
When they are old enough to understand, and after two years of participation in a religious formation program, they can join the rest of the community in receiving communion each week. “First” communion is just that — the first time they are fed with communion. This of course is followed by second communion, third communion, etc. as the children now join their parents in receiving communion each week.
Years ago it was prescribed what children had to wear for their first communion. It often involved white suits for the boys and white dresses with veils for the girls. These days it is up to each family to decide what special outfit to wear and many parents and grandparents recall their own first communion day and want to recreate something of that experience as they dress their children for the day. Why dress up? It’s like any other first experience. For example, parents take care to dress their children for their first day of school in a new school outfit.
Yet communion is ultimately not about what a child wears, but how a child grows in faith. The saying, “you are what you eat” holds true here. Parents are concerned about feeding their children a healthy diet each day. Spiritually, Catholics feed on a weekly diet of the Divine. I know for myself, each time I receive communion, I have to seriously consider how I care for others and how loving I am. Ultimately this is why parents receive communion each week and why they are so thrilled to bring their children to the Eucharistic table. More care. More love. Just what the world needs these days.
You might also see older neighborhood children posing in robes at this time of the year. These are not graduation robes, but the robes worn for Confirmation. Indeed the Sacrament of Confirmation is about joining the church community more deeply, not graduating from it.
When these teens were babies, their parents brought them to belong to the church community through the Sacrament of Baptism. Obviously the infants had no say in this matter. But as they grew and came to their own understanding of faith and developed their own relationship with God, through their participation in their church, they arrived at an opportunity to choose for themselves to have their baptism confirmed and to make a permanent commitment to belonging to the church.
Just as we might confirm an airline reservation, we confirm the presence of faith in the sacrament. And just as an airline flight will take us to a different place, so too the confirmation of faith takes us to a place where God’s gifts can grow exponentially in our lives.

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