Saturday morning First Communion classes have begun at my parish church. With the exception of a few latecomers, registrations are completed, books bought and the kids are already whining about homework assignments. The majority of the class are 7-year-old children who go to public schools or private non-Catholic schools. A few of them are from Catholic schools outside the parish and a small number come from the parish schools. As usual, some of the kids come prepared, eager to learn, their hands in the air ready to answer all the questions. Other children are not. All in all, it’s a fairly large catechism class.
Getting to know each child will take some time. The hesitant, more reserved children will be more challenging to draw out. I’ll mix up or forget their names for the next few weeks, but things will eventually work out. It always does.
In teaching the young ones about the Sacraments of First Confession and First Communion, I have to start with the basics; begin at the beginning. Who is God? Why did God make us? Explain the Blessed Trinity.
For about half the class, I have to go back even further. It’s bewildering to me how 6- and 7-year- old children raised in Catholic homes do not know how to make the Sign of the Cross or pray the Our Father from memory. It points to the problem of a lack of basic formation in the faith. It shows that their parents have abdicated their primary duty of bringing their little ones to God. It shows that some parents are willing to have someone else teach their children the basics of the Catholic faith. It shows that somewhere down the line, some parents stopped believing that handing on the faith to their children is primarily their responsibility and the catechist is meant to support, not replace them. If I sound heavy-handed, it’s because I don’t feel that there’s any excuse for a 6-year- old who can’t make that fundamental gesture of Catholic prayer, the Sign of the Cross. And not being able to pray the Lord’s Prayer from memory at 6 or 7-years-old? Well, there’s no acceptable excuse for that.
By April, the children will know that they must stand for prayers; they will have traditional Catholic prayers memorized; they will understand the Sacrament of Penance as well as know how to make a good confession. Above all, they will understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and be prepared to receive Him.
At some point in their lives, most of the children will probably forget how to solve algebraic equations or how to properly use a semi-colon. They may never know what a long-chain polysaccharide is or even care how light refracts. But their faith, especially their belief in the Holy Eucharist, is fundamental to their whole lives.
To be charged with helping them and their families discover Jesus in the Sacraments of Confession and Communion is daunting, to say the least. It sometimes takes my breath away just thinking about it. For guidance, I turn to my patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. At the young age of 23, she became the de facto mistress of novices for her cloister. Realizing that this task was beyond her human capability, she wrote: Lord, I am too little to nourish Your children; if You wish to give through me what is suitable for each, fill my little hand and without leaving your arms or turning my head, I shall give your treasures to the soul who will come and ask for nourishment………..From the moment I understood that it was impossible for me to do anything by myself, the task……..no longer appeared difficult. (Story of A Soul)
Well written, St. Therese. For the sake of these beautiful little souls that have been entrusted to me, I echo your wise words.