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When you coordinate parish first Communions, you know you’re dealing with the potential for a logistical nightmare. The externals of it all can be quite daunting. How do you line up an odd number of children? How do you determine which family sits in which pew? How do you provide opportunities for the children to participate as lectors and gift bearers without creating a host of non-essential roles that just end up overshadowing the Mass itself? And then, there’s the biggest question: how do you fix whatever doesn’t go as planned and practiced!
Anyone who does this job will tell you that one of the most difficult things to get right is the opening procession. That is why throughout the year at St. Maria Goretti, I have led all 64 of our first Eucharist children up the stairs in pairs with hands folded. Every one of the nine or 10 times we held “class” in the church for Scripture presentations or eucharistic adoration, the children practiced what would become the opening procession on first Communion day. My constant refrain on Monday afternoons, as we lined up in the basement hall, was this: “We’re only going to do what we’re prepared to do.” After that, I simply waited for the chatter or movement to stop. When it did, we’d proceed -- but not until. And if they lost focus again, we’d stop and wait again.
This last weekend we celebrated first holy Communion at our three regular parish Masses. While all that practice certainly helped, it didn’t make things perfect. The excitement of the day, the fancy dresses, veils, jackets and ties, the talk of parties and the eyes of the congregation had their effect as well. Still, the children were prepared enough for the externals, that they were able to focus on the internal mystery that really mattered. They were about to receive Jesus in holy Communion for the very first time. Almost all of them did so with reverence as well as a smile.
As the last group lined up, I heard myself repeat the phrase I’d used all year, “We’re only going to do what we’re prepared to do.” But this time, I heard it echo in my own heart, as if God was saying the very same thing to me. “When you pray, I will answer.” “When you ask, I will give.” “When you are present with me, you will know that I am always present to you.” “When you stop moving, I will move.” “When you come to silence and surrender, I will work my will.”
The older I get the more I realize that in our lives of faith, God does all the prep work, and He leaves nothing to waste. Everything we experience, all that we learn--even the challenges we face and the suffering we endure-- is preparation for something more, something greater, something God is doing in us. We may dream and imagine our lives as something other than they are, but most of us don’t even know the first step to take to make it real. Thankfully, our God paves the road before us. He leads us pace by pace to what He has prepared for us. All we have to do is be there.
God’s hand is most clearly visible in situations when it seems that all the pieces necessary for something to happen just suddenly come together on their own. When we stand back long enough to see the forest instead of just the trees, it is amazing how everything “fits,” how everything makes sense and even beauty. If the Easter season teaches us anything, it is that the life of Christ Jesus continues in us without much effort on our part. The life, death, and resurrection of the Lord not only show us the way, but lead us onward along it. In the light of the Easter sunrise we see that our lives are God’s work more than they are ours, and that our time on earth is merely a rehearsal for eternal life with Him in heaven.
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.