First Holy Communion
In this beautiful homily for 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, Father Hanly talks to the children who are about to receive their First Holy Communion.
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Second Reading: First Peter 3:15-18
Gospel: John 14:15-21
Are you excited about receiving your First Holy Communion?
(Children reply, “Yes.”)
Yeah. You know, it was in 1939 when I received my First Holy Communion and it is the one day in my life that I remember better than all the days of my childhood.
I remember the clothes we had to wear. I remember Sister saying, “Now, be careful when you receive the sacred bread, you must learn to swallow it.” And she had all these rules and regulations and I was so frightened I didn’t know whether I was going to receive Communion or not.
But it turned out to be wonderful, because, you know, when you’re young, you see everybody coming up to receive the bread and you say, “What are they doing?” And then, when you’re getting prepared for Communion, they tell you what they’re doing. And we’ve already given you the same.
Remember there was a great banquet and Jesus was there with all his friends. And the two most important things when they set the table, of course, were the cup, the cup would be filled with wine, and the little dish would have in it the sacred bread. And what was inside? Just wine and just bread.
And then Jesus got up from the table and he took off his robe and he knelt down in front of each disciple and they brought the bowl. And he poured water and washed the feet of his disciples.
Now, this is very important if you’re going to understand Holy Communion. No washing feet, no Holy Communion. If you don’t learn to wash feet, you’ll never know what you’re receiving in Holy Communion.
And you know why? Because a slave used to wash the feet of the honoured guests that came in. And Jesus wanted to teach them a lesson. And do you know what the lesson was? He loved them so much that he knelt down and washed their feet, not to put on a show, but to show them how much God loved them as well, because he was paying honour to them, one by one, all the way down.
And what did that tell us? It tells us our Saviour washes feet. God washes feet. Because whatever our Lord does, God does. And what do they have to learn? How to wash feet.
What does washing feet mean?
It means just what he did. He paid them honour and respect as guests in the house of God, because those were the only people who had their feet washed, those who were honoured guests.
And why did he say that?
Because, in God’s eyes, you are the most precious, the most precious, things in all of creation. And you’ll never understand that and you’ll never really come to grips with it.
But the truth is God kneels before you and honours you for what you are. Each one of you is unique in all the world. There’s no two like you from the beginning of time until the end of time. And that is when God creates us, He creates each that shares their own special love with God and with each other.
Now Jesus has this great concept. He’s thinking, “How can I impress these people with the understanding?” And he looks at the altar, the table, and what does he see there? He sees the bread.
And he says, “How can I make these twelve men remember, for all eternity, how important it is that tomorrow I’m going to die? Tomorrow I’m going to leave them. Tomorrow I’m going to offer my life out of love for them, that they might have eternal life forever. How will they remember it? What shall I give them? Shall I give them money? Shall I give them postcards?”
He looks and what does he see? Simple, simple, he sees the bread. He sees the bread and he takes the bread. And he looks at them and he says, first he breaks it, then he says, “This is me. From this night for all eternity, this is my body. This is me. Take it and consume it.”
And then he takes the wine and he blesses the wine and he says, “Take this and drink from it, because this is the wine that tomorrow will symbolise my death on the cross, and it is poured out for all of you, that you might become the children of God and the heirs of heaven.”
And then he says the thing that keeps us all together, he says, “Whenever you come together to celebrate me, this is what you do. You will break the bread and drink the wine and then you will know that you are one with me, here, now, tomorrow, forever.”
Understand? Pretty big stuff, right? Yes.
But it’s all about love. It’s not about getting to heaven. It’s not about getting rewards. It’s not about being special. But it is about coming into God’s love in this very special way, that you are one with the Shepherd, you are one with Jesus, and you share his Sonship, you become the children of his Father, loved and cared for, for now to all eternity. Do you think you can remember that?
What does it mean for me?
I still remember my First Holy Communion. I remember being a little frightened that I might mess it up. I remember being a little shy about not totally understanding it. But I remember, most of all, the group, a large number of people who came to watch me enter into becoming the fullness of God’s love and family and caring, and I would be that from now until the end of time. Not bad.
Okay, I’ve talked enough. Communion is not about talking, communion is about doing. Not only doing by taking the bread and eating it, and taking the wine and drinking it, but becoming like Jesus.
All the rest of our life, we say the rule is not what does my mummy think, what does my daddy think, the rule is what does Jesus think. Am I loving, caring, forgiving, like he wants me to love and care and forgive? Am I becoming closer and closer to his love and knowing that he’s always with me and, whenever I have troubles and problems, I can go to him and rush into his arms and he will understand like a Good Shepherd understands.
And forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. The only thing he asks is in his commandment: Love God with your whole heart. Very easy. But you must learn to love your brothers and sisters. And how do you learn that? By many mistakes.
The main thing is you learn to forgive, you learn to forget, you learn to care, you learn to reach out to all those in need. You learn, in short, to be like Jesus and you will grow like him, slowly but surely.
And what will happen in the world? The whole world will be changed. Are you ready for that?
Now, if you make mistakes, if you commit sins, if you do, don’t worry about it.
Why? Because the main word we describe Jesus is the one who forgives, the one who loves, the one who cares.
And Mother Theresa says, “If you fall down, like a failure, you fall down on the ground, there’s no such thing as failure unless you stay on the ground and refuse to get up again and walk forward with Jesus.”
Remember that. No matter what happens, no matter how far you roam, no matter where you go and try to hide from God, you won’t. Why? Because God chases you down because He loves you and cares for you and wants to give you eternal life.
Always remember that you make mistakes, you forgive. You forgive yourself and you forgive each other. And Jesus will be there for you, always. And even if you don’t forgive, he’ll be there for you, waiting and wishing and waiting for some day you will turn back to him and you will be healed and full of new life.
So are you ready to receive your First Holy Communion?
People don’t realise this, even though I talk a lot, religion has nothing to do with talking, religion has everything to do with doing.
Somebody comes up to you, “Oh, I can recite the Ten Commandments, the Twelve this, the Beatitudes, blah, blah, blah. I do this, I do that. I can argue greatly. I always argue for my religion.”
But what Jesus says is, if you’re a Christian, you’re doing, you’re loving, you’re caring, you’re reaching out, you’re moving, moving, moving. Because God’s love is a verb, it’s not a noun that stands there all the time pretending that you’re better than everybody else.
Remember that, to move with Jesus through the world, you can change the world and that’s why he tells you, “Take the bread and take the wine and be one with me as we walk through the world together, healing and caring and doing our share to make the world one in joy, in happiness and in peace.”
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Father Hanly's sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, "First Holy Communion" was delivered on 29th May 2011. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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