A few years ago, when my parents were preparing to move, my dad decided to covert some of our old home movies into a digital format so that it would be easier to preserve them and share them with my siblings and me. Watching some of those videos brought back some fond memories. Among the scenes in these videos were those that included my grandparents, all since deceased. It was a blessing to see and hear them as if live.
Another video that my dad found was a video made of the Mass for my First Holy Communion. It was from that video that I learned that the date of my first Holy Communion was June 7, 1987, meaning that I recently celebrated the 35th Anniversary of that important day. As I watched the video, my heart was filled with joy as I saw our Pastor, Father Don Knuffman, celebrating this important occasion. Up to that point, I had just assumed that he was the one who gave me my First Communion, but as I watched the video, I found out that it was actually Father Pat Jakel, now Pastor of St. Paul Parish in Highland. His niece was a classmate of mine and he was there to concelebrate the Mass. I also discovered that among my classmates was a boy who would later become my best friend for a time, a boy named Tim. Tim’s family moved away when we were in 7th grade and I lost track of him. On the day of my ordination to the priesthood in 2011, I was shocked to learn from a family friend that my old friend was also a Catholic priest, ordained a few years earlier and now serving in the Diocese of Marquette in Michigan. In addition to these surprises, it was nice to see the faces of classmates long forgotten and watching what was one of the first masses celebrated in the newly built St. Jerome Church in Troy. For all of these reasons mentioned above, the discovery of this video was truly a gift.
The greatest gift of discovering this video, however, was being able to watch as I received Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. To watch it now, I laugh at how unnatural I looked! I received Jesus, placed Him into my mouth, and looked to my right to see what the boy in line next to me was doing. He looked at me, as if to say: “Now what?” After that awkward pause, we both turned and went back to our seats. I have no real recollection of what I was thinking as I received Jesus for the first time. It probably was not something profound, as you hear about some saints in their biographies. But I do know on that day, a seed was planted in my soul. I tasted the Lord for the first time, and that was the very beginning of a hunger that would grow, though almost imperceptibly for quite some time. Then, in 2005, by God’s Providence, and through the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother, I was led back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and my hunger for the Eucharist was intensified. From that point on, nearly 18 years after my first Holy Communion, I began receiving the Eucharist with much greater devotion, certainly every Sunday, then a couple of times a week, then virtually every day for the past 17 years. This gift of the Eucharist is truly the source and center of my life, as a Catholic and as a priest, and it is my great joy (as it is for all of our priests) to offer this gift to you each day.
I share this reflection today also as an encouragement to hope for parents and grandparents whose children and grandchildren may have wandered away from the practice of their Catholic faith. Perhaps they received their First Holy Communion before drifting away. Take consolation in knowing of the seed that was planted in their souls on that day, a seed which carries with it a hunger for the Lord, though that hunger may be imperceptible at the present time. Be patient, the Lord hungers for them to return, as does our Blessed Mother. Ask her to pray for them, that they, like me so many years ago, might return to the sacraments and so have that hunger for the Eucharist intensified.