After You First Receive: Advice to a Son
By James M. Chesbro - Fairfield, Connecticut, USA - 12 February 2016
Your sisters had not yet been born. I walked behind you and Mom as your two-year-old hand held hers, ambling along the pews. After Mom placed the Eucharist in her mouth, you held out your hand to the priest. You wanted more than his blessing. You wanted to eat. Mom tugged a little, urging you to walk with her, and you balanced yourself on one foot for a moment, your arm outstretched, your expectant palm upturned, and open.
This image makes me think of the famous painting The Creation of Adam, by a man named Michelangelo. You remember the story of Adam and Eve, right? Well, in this painting, God is stretching his arm out, and his pointer finger lifts in an attempt to touch Adam’s whose arm is extended toward God’s. Their pointer fingers, however, do not touch. You’re old enough now to start considering praying and going to church as one way we reach out to God. You’re old enough now to start considering the Eucharist as one way God reaches out to us.
You’ve been riding a bike, reading, and taking the school bus on your own for years. Whenever I’m watching a game on TV and I ask you to tell me how many points the winning team is leading by you figure it out in seconds. You’re a sharp kid, which is partially why you’re always making grand proposals to watch more TV, or have more time to play games on the iPad, or for us to buy you more Star Wars Lego sets.
You often balk when we tell you time is up on the iPad. You are always asking for more snacks, more chocolate for desert. Believe it or not, if we let you play games on the iPad all day, with gold coins lighting up the screen, and dragons fighting each other, or if we let you watch as many of those shows on Disney XD where the laugh track howls every time one of the smart-alecky kid characters makes a joke at one of the adult character’s expense, or if we let you crunch through endless bags of salty snacks, and chew as much chocolate as you pleased, you wouldn’t be happy. In fact, besides your stomach aching, eventually you’d probably feel pretty miserable in your “heart room” as well. In preparation for making your first Holy Communion, one of your teachers has told you about kneeling quietly and going to your “heart room” after receiving the Eucharist. Your body and your heart room will always be hungry for more than junk. Screens will never feed you.
Your heart room swells when you hug Mom. Your heart room pangs when you realize your sisters do not have nursery school and are spending the day absorbing your grandmother’s attention, while you’re at school answering to your teacher.
Recently I asked you why receiving the Eucharist was such a big deal. “Because it’s Jesus,” you said with raised brows. And that’s what we bow to, what we kneel before, and why we go to church. There’s a really smart man by the name of Henri Nouwen who has done a lot of reading and writing and reflecting about Jesus. Lots of people have read his books. In one of those books (Letters to Mark About Jesus), he writes, “The Eucharist opens the way for us to make God’s love our own.” Right now, if questioned about the Eucharist, you know what to say, but it can become more for you, son -- as long as your arm remains outstretched, your expectant palm upturned, and open.