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"Uncle Bryan, will you be giving me my first Communion?" This is the question my youngest nephew Kevin asked me after one of his hockey games a number of months ago. Just as I had the privilege of celebrating first Holy Communion with his older sister and two older brothers, Kevin wanted to make sure that he, also, had this special moment with his uncle. Yet the privilege was all mine. You see, among the most beautiful moments in my life as a priest has been the privilege of sharing the holy sacraments with my immediate family: witnessing the marriages of my brother and sisters, celebrating baptisms and first communions with my niece and nephews (2 more to go), recently offering the 50th wedding anniversary Mass for and with my parents. These treasured family experiences are rooted in our faith and belief that we share them not only with one other, but most especially in the presence of Risen Christ, who is with us in the holy sacraments. "I am with you always until the end of the world." (Mt 28:20)
One of the most precious gifts of our Catholic faith is our trust and belief in Christ's continuing presence in the seven sacraments. Just as the Risen Christ revealed himself in the "breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35) to those heart-broken disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, so the very same Christ gives himself to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, at each Holy Mass. Indeed, during this Easter Season in which first Holy Communions, confirmations and marriages are celebrated in churches throughout our archdiocese, we trust that the same Christ who revealed himself on numerous occasions to his disciples after his Resurrection, and the same Holy Spirit present with the disciples at the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), is with us and all the faithful during these sacred sacramental moments. As the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" reminds us, "the seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian's life of faith." (1210). Indeed, treasuring the sacraments is the foundation of a rich Catholic spirituality.
I hope that many of you had the opportunity to see the beautiful Catholics Come Home commercials during these past few months, and perhaps even personally welcomed some folks back to your local parish. Many have mentioned to me they have seen these commercials; I watched my first during a Bruins game! Seemingly, they were everywhere. Their beauty is that they highlighted the importance of the sacraments throughout the journey of life. Certainly, we continue to hope and pray that those who have drifted from an active practice of their Catholic faith will "come home." We welcome them with open arms and loving hearts. We have all seen the statistics of those who have left the Church and the very large number of former Catholics in the general population. Many of these Catholic have joined other Christian denominations, often independent evangelical churches, that they say give them a greater sense of community and spiritual fulfillment. Yet, with all due respect, they will not find the seven sacraments there and, most essentially, they will not encounter and receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist there. Yes, community is a central aspect of a healthy Catholic parish, but community flows from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. A truly eucharistic parish will have plenty of community. As St. Augustine states, "For you hear the words, 'the Body of Christ' and respond 'Amen.' Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your 'Amen' may be true." The greatest spiritual fulfillment we could ever experience is found in every Catholic Church throughout the world: Jesus Christ with us in the Holy Eucharist.
At Mass this Sunday we will hear Jesus' final words to his disciples: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (Jn 14:6) We are privileged to experience the fullness of this truth in the Catholic Church. As my little nephew Kevin has been initiated more fully into his Catholic faith through the reception of first Holy Communion, may we treasure the continuing presence and powerful grace of Christ by our side, offered to us through a lifelong reception of his holy sacraments.
Father Bryan K. Parrish is Assistant Vicar for Administration and Special Assistant to the Vicar General.