Last week, Mike and I spent a day with our granddaughters. At bedtime, I left Ellie and Lauren with Grandpa while I headed upstairs to get their pajamas. While retrieving Ellie’s pajamas from her closet, I noticed the beautiful white dress that she wore for Uncle Tim’s and Aunt Kim’s wedding. “That would make a beautiful First Communion dress.“ I thought to myself. As you’ve discovered by now, it doesn’t take much to encourage me down Memory Lane. Before I knew it, I was back at Presentation School for the 1958-59 school year.
I made my first confession and received First Eucharist in second grade. Sister Mary Carmelice, B.V.M., who taught us best by modeling what she expected us to learn, revealed the wonder of Jesus to me and my classmates that year. Sister began by helping us to develop reverence toward the Eucharist. Sister walked us to our parish church and right up to the tabernacle to show us where the Eucharist is kept. We stood quietly and in awe as Sister explained what a miracle it is that Jesus is present and available to us in Holy Communion. She pointed out that Jesus didn’t have to leave himself with us, but Jesus did this because he wanted to be with us in a very special way. By the time we returned to our classroom that day, my classmates and I were convinced that receiving the Eucharist would be an amazing honor.
In the days that followed our trip to church, Sister taught us of a second aspect of Jesus’ wonder. Sister told us about the miracle of the loaves and fishes and many other miracles recorded in the scriptures. She told us of the cures of the lepers, the centurian’s daughter and the blind man. She told us of the raising of Lazarus and of Jesus’ tears over the loss of John the Baptist. More importantly, Sister told us of Jesus’ uncommon generosity and his unconditional love for God’s people. She told us of the times that Peter and the others failed to understand what Jesus taught them. Sister was careful to add that Jesus never gave up on his friends. He offered the disciples chance after chance to do their best. Sister didn’t only introduce us to Jesus in the Eucharist. She also introduced us to the Jesus who walked this earth as one of us. I left my second grade classroom convinced that regardless of how often I failed others or myself, Jesus would always be there for me. Though I can’t speak for my classmates, I can attest that I anxiously awaited my First Communion Day. I wanted more than anything to receive this Jesus whom I had come to love and who loved me so.
Today’s gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) joins Ellie’s white dress in stirring my memories of the wonderful sister who encouraged my friendship with Jesus. Sister’s gentle nudges that year have helped me throughout my life to savor the gospel stories that reveal the person of Jesus. Today’s gospel gets to the heart of what I’ve discovered. This story begins just after Jesus receives the news that John the Baptist has been murdered. Jesus attempts to withdraw from his friends to mourn because he loves his cousin John. Though he perches himself in a small boat, far away from the others, word of Jesus’ whereabouts spreads quickly. Before Jesus can shed a tear, a crowd surrounds him once again. Matthew tells us, “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.” As heartbroken as he is, Jesus knows that there is nothing for him to do for John the Baptist just now. The crowds before him are another story. So it is that Jesus abandons his own sorrow to embrace the needs of the people gathered on the shore.
In second grade, Sister Mary Carmelice caught my attention with Jesus’ miracles and kept my attention by revealing Jesus’ uncommon and unmistakable love for each one of us. Sister’s effort made all of the difference in the world to me. Perhaps it’s time for us to do the same for our own children –and grandchildren! A trip to the tabernacle or a chat about the bread and wine we are offered during our liturgies is a start. St. Paul’s is open all day, every day, so a visit to the holy space that we call our day chapel is easy. We can share the stories of Jesus’ kindness any time. As we busy ourselves sharing Jesus with the children we’ve been given to love, Jesus will continue to busy himself, loving you and loving me.
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved