The Sacraments Keep Us Catholic

“At last the most wonderful day of my life arrived, and I can remember every tiny detail of those heavenly hours … How lovely it was, that first kiss of Jesus in my heart—it was truly a kiss of love.” – St. Therese of Lisieux, describing her first Holy Communion

Last month I was blessed to witness nearly 140 young people from our parish and school receiving their first Holy Communion. They were, by and large, reverent and excited—and those I spoke with personally understood at least in concept that they were receiving Jesus’s Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. I hope at least a few of them remember the day with the same deep joy and devotion as St. Therese expresses above.  I’m almost certain, unfortunately, that a few have not been back.

Our approach to preparing children for First Confession and First Communion in recent years has increasingly fallen on their parents. In one sense, this is as it should be: the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that, through marriage, “parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children” and “should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith.”

On the other hand, many parents do not feel equipped to share those mysteries, being uncertain themselves about the Church’s teachings on Reconciliation and the Eucharist. And while we provide families with workbooks to help them teach their children, these are poor substitutes for the level of love and support young Therese had in the months leading up to the sacraments. Her desire to make a good confession and to receive the gift of the Eucharist consumed her completely, and everyone in her family and community fueled her understanding and love for the Lord in whatever way they could.

As a parish, we can certainly do more. Beginning this fall, First Reconciliation and First Communion students will have an extra class or activity (in addition to LIFT) each month dedicated to sacramental preparation and a deeper understanding of the great gifts of Christ’s love and mercy we find on the altar and in the confessional. But this is no substitute for the evangelizing witness of parents leading a sacramental life in which their Catholic faith is a top family priority.

This is true for two reasons. The first is this: because children naturally observe and imitate their parents’ actions and interests, parents don’t have to have all the right answers, but it helps if you do the right things. Secondly, the sacraments are defined as outward signs instituted by Christ to give us grace—in particular, sacramental grace, which strengthens us to live according to our faith and state in life. The sacrament of Matrimony, for example, confers upon the spouses the graces needed to live in union as husband and wife, come what may.

The same applies to the sacraments of Confession and Communion. They strengthen us to resist temptation and seek communion with God, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to love sacrificially—in short, to be holy men and women of God. Each time we receive them, we are changed for the better. And when our children imitate us, so are they. What better way to ensure our kids remain Catholic?

Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, May 24, church bulletin.

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