The last of the Firsts

For our family, this spring marks the end of an era. With the last of our children’s first holy Communions, we will leave the tender years of childhood wonder behind. Sure, we still have two 8-year-olds. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy still visit our house. The flower of young innocence is still largely in bloom. But on the other side of Juliana’s first Eucharist, there lies the great expanse of diminishing fantasy and moments of let’s pretend. The picture we paint together will careen more and more towards realism, with lines so photographically sharp that it doesn’t look much like a painting at all.

I have it all down to a science now. My list of invitees has been stable since our youngest son’s first Communion three years ago. In fact, I even saved the list of foods we served then, and have pretty much repeated the same party fare now for the third time. She’ll stay in her dress and veil until our guests have gone. We’ll take her outside, if the weather permits, to take pictures. We’ll have the chicken and meatballs and sausage. We’ll make punch, and order a cake, and put out some special ethnic sweets alongside it. We’ll open gifts when much of the crowd is gone, and make a list for thank you notes. And most importantly of all, we’ll do our best to reinforce that the best gift any child receives at first Communion is the Giver of All Gifts, Jesus himself.

I can’t say that I miss diapers, or car seats, or repetitious books. But if having everyone in our household past the “age of reason” means that we will collectively lose the feeling that each day is fresh start, that life is a mystery, and that there is always something new to learn, then I’d go back in a minute. A few days ago, I heard our third grade daughter tell Juliana that “Your first Communion is really, well, the best day of your life!” How right she is. And yet, how easily we lose that sense of awe that so animates the childlike heart.

Much of what we do to celebrate will be the same for Juliana as it has been for the brothers and sisters who passed through that gate before her. But even after seven of them, I have to say that first holy Communions remain very special. I think it is because it’s our chance to direct our children’s hearts to the One who loves them even more than we do. We see our children filled with excitement and anticipation, and we begin to remember just how wonderful the gift of Jesus present as Eucharist truly is.

To me, the most wonderful thing of all is that the joy of first holy Communion does not rely on fairytales, but on truth. The God who made our children in the here and now has promised to provide everything they need for their journey into forever. Their prayer for daily bread will never go unanswered. The Good Shepherd leads and feeds, guards and protects them, even where or when we cannot. Ultimately, they are our children, but even more so his. And all the primping and preening we do for first Communion, all the feasting and giving of gifts is meant to be an appetizer, if you will, of heaven.

I’ll be grateful when Juliana’s day has come, and relieved when the last bag of trash goes out and the last serving piece is washed and dried and put away. But I hope that as we continue to strive towards the ideals of Christian family life, we never lose the glow that comes from seeing one another as Christ’s spotless Bride, reflected -- if even for just one day -- in his eyes.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.