Last Supper by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret
When I saw her, I was breathless.
I had just arrived home from a night of teaching. Tired and a little hunched over (with a slight resemblance to Willy Loman), I dropped my satchel of books on the ground and I headed for the stairs to see my wife and kids. Now, let it be understood, Sunday nights are typically frenetic at our house. Our home is filled with childrens’ energy bubbling over. Squeals and giggles, leaps from perches and scrambles for piggyback rides increase in intensity as we close in on bedtime. But we know. The routine of baths, books and brushing of teeth devour the weekend’s waning hours and the creeping anxiety of the upcoming work and school week begins to set in.
But not tonight.
As I climbed the stairs, one heavy footstep after another, I saw her.
And I was breathless.
There, standing on the landing halfway up our stairs, was my eight year-old daughter. Dressed in her pearl white First Holy Communion dress. She was trying the dress on a week in advance of the official day and she was nothing less than a vision. Now, mind you, my daughter has gotten to the stage in life where she flees any attempt to have her picture taken. She even becomes bashful when you simply ask her to show her loose tooth, pose in her school uniform or flex that bicep. But not tonight. With a beaming, radiant smile and wide dancing eyes, there stood my daughter. And she was an absolute beauty.
So what is this all for? Why is an eight year old grinning from ear-to-ear and donning a dress reminiscent of a baptismal gown or a wedding dress? And why am I choking up as I look at her on this ordinary Sunday night?
Because this is my daughter’s First Holy Communion.
And just…consider. Tomorrow, my daughter may simply be dressing up in a pretty dress, attending Mass with extended family, walking up to eat a small piece of bread and drink wine, eating out for dinner, getting a present or two and going to bed.
Tomorrow, my daughter dresses in white to epitomize the purity she strives to achieve and maintain (in the wake of First Reconciliation), family surrounds her to witness this seminal event in her life of faith, and for the first time, she partakes in a moment of the highest majesty, but even more, of the deepest intimacy. She approaches the Real Presence of Christ. She consumes Christ’s Body and Blood.
It will be the first of innumerable holy moments of Communion in her life. The first of many receptions of deep Grace. The first of countless journeys to a Thin Place. The first experience to palpably and joyously encounter the God who condescended to be consumed by his Creation…only to mystically and lovingly transform it.
And just imagine. In no time at all, she won’t fit into the dress she is wearing tomorrow. She will grow taller and wiser. I imagine that as my daughter grows older, she will have worries about grades and sports and boys which before long will become concerns about jobs and housing and life’s purpose. She will have joy over achievements and accolades, pride over risks taken and fears conquered. At times, she will get hurt (there are times that even Mom and Dad can’t completely protect her). And at times, she will thrive. It is moments like this. Moments when I look into her endlessly blue eyes, snow white smile and delicate frame in the purest of dresses, that I realize with a lump in my throat.
This little girl. My little girl. This perfect vision will someday become a woman.
And I wonder…during these passages of life, if and when I can’t always know her thoughts, fend off all of her trials and be ever-present at just the right moment. Will she allow God to do so?
Because the ease with which God opens his arms and calls us is ever so sweet. The mercy with which Christ counsels us, accompanies us and carries us is beyond compare. The Grace which God offers us is always present and never failing. Will she pray in her quiet times to seek his counsel, to know her calling and to receive his Grace? Will she go to Mass to hear the story, recite his creed and praise his name? Will she walk to the front of the church and receive the Blessed Sacrament and the Precious Blood in times good and bad as she will walk up there tomorrow – beaming, young and innocent?
My God, I pray so.
In a moment of deep poignancy, Pope Benedict XVI was talking with children when he recalled his First Holy Communion,
“At the heart of my joyful and beautiful memories is this one…I understood that Jesus had entered my heart, he had actually visited me. And with Jesus, God himself was with me. And I realized that this is a gift of love that is truly worth more than all the other things that life can give. So on that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning, I was 9 years old, and that it was henceforth important to stay faithful to that encounter, to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: “I always want to stay with you”, and I prayed to him, “but above all, stay with me”.
As I stood on the stairs beholding this beautiful little girl in her pearl white dress, my sweet daughter, and tomorrow, a First Communicant, I knew once again just how much I love her.
And I knew just how much God loves her too.
Congratulations to my baby girl and to all First Communicants on this very holy day.
Photo courtesy of Last Supper, 1896 work by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (from Wikipedia)