Requiring above-and-beyond practice from our children gives them a high bar to aim for. This is a good thing.
This spring our family faces four big events: a daughter’s wedding, a son’s high school graduation, another’s confirmation and seven-year-old Charlie’s first communion.
Of the four events, by far the most important is Charlie’s first communion.
It is an event he has been preparing for his whole life, which will mark him for eternity.
We start getting our kids ready for communion when they are very little.
I take the eight-and-younger kids on a tour of the church every Sunday to do two things: to satiate their curiosity and their restlessness a little before they have to sit still; and to teach them.
We name each station of the cross, ask each depicted saint to pray for us, and I introduce them to the tabernacle. That is where they learn about the Real Presence, and they learn it through a dialogue I have been having with children about their age for years now. Here’s how it went last Sunday.
Me: What is that box called?
Charlie: It’s not a box. It’s called the tabernacle.
Me: Who’s in the tabernacle?
Me: How can he fit in the tabernacle if he’s the size of a man, like me?
Charlie: He’s bigger than you, and he can fit in there because he’s God, and he can do whatever he wants.
Me (leaving aside that the Shroud of Turin suggests that I am taller than Jesus): And what does he want?
Charlie: He wants to be with us, so he turned himself into bread.
Me: “No …
Charlie: I mean he turned bread into himself.
Me: Yes. Good. Now let’s genuflect.
As the kids get older, our Eucharistic lesson gets more complicated.
Whenever I take an eight-and-older out alone, I try to make it a point to stop by a tabernacle somewhere. We kneel down.
Me: What do we pray when we make a visit?
Me: What does the A stand for?
Me: Jesus, we adore you. Thank you for waiting here in the tabernacle for us to visit. And the C?
Me: Jesus, we are so sorry for all of our sins and ask your mercy on us and on the whole world. The T?
Me: Jesus, thank you for our food, shelter, clothing and most of all for our family and faith. Please bless those who lack food, shelter, clothing, family or faith. S?
Me: No, “Supplication.” Same thing, but it helps spell “Acts.” Jesus, please bless Mom, Dad, Cecilia, Olivia, Thomas, Dorothy, Benjamin, John Paul, Maria, Charlie and Anthony. Please bless all those who most need your help right now.
For teens, we ratchet up the expectations: We require a weekly Eucharistic hour or half hour.
We are blessed with a high school that provides a monthly holy hour already and a perpetual adoration chapel filled with college-age role models doing their own hours. Spoiled by it, perhaps.
But requiring this above-and-beyond practice from our children gives them a high bar to aim for. We don’t ask for perfect holy hours; we do ask for an attempt.
Why all of this emphasis on the Eucharist? Because, as J.R.R. Tolkien put it to his son, “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.”
Also, because we live in a place where we have untroubled access to the real presence of Jesus Christ among us.
I tell the kids the story of Father Ragheed Ganni, a priest in Iraq who said Mass every week despite the constant threat of terrorism. He had to prepare children for communion in a residential basement, because Islamic jihadists might kill them if they did it openly. When gunfire scared the kids during a communion run-through, he laughed and told them it was fireworks celebrating the sacrament.
Then I read them Father Ragheed’s words from a year before he was killed by terrorists.
“Without the Sunday Eucharist we cannot live,” he said. “The terrorists might think they can kill our bodies or our spirit by frightening us, but, on Sundays, churches are always full. They may try to take our life, but the Eucharist gives it back. … When I hold the host in my hands, it is really he who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in his boundless love.”
So, congratulations, Benjamin, Thomas and Cecilia. You are taking major steps in life, and we will celebrate them fully. But Charlie’s step is greater.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is available for preorder.