Do you understand?

This weekend, my family celebrates my youngest son’s 1st Holy Communion.

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Parents in the Catholic faith will fully appreciate the level of commitment that the children – and the parents! – need to go through for 8 months prior to this occasion. 8 months of the child going to Saturday school, on top of a heavy school week; 8 months of additional learning and spiritual guidance; 8 months of the parents (me) attending evening meetings for reminders on how to guide our children in the Catholic faith; 8 months of attending Saturday or Sunday Mass EVERY week (good job I do this already!).

All this, and I am still not 100% sure that my son or his friends in the group understand exactly what is going on. After all, I didn’t at that age. It was something that we knew we had to do. I do remember feeling very grown up at the Sunday Masses that followed my 1st Holy Communion, as it meant that I could now receive Communion rather than getting a blessing from the priest. But the reason why I was now able to take the Body and Blood of Christ? I was clueless.

Here are the things that I learned from the process at the age of 8:

  • I had to make sure that I stuck my tongue out fully so that the priest could put the bread on my tongue.
  • I had to say “Amen” loudly after the priest offered me the Body of Christ – if I didn’t, he would refuse to give me Communion.
  • I had to bless myself after taking the bread.
  • I was told to put the bread to the roof of my mouth and work it down slowly with my tongue.
  • When I got back to the pew, I was to kneel and say a prayer of thanks, before sitting up and waiting patiently for the rest of the congregation to finish.

What I didn’t know (or remember learning) was the REASON we did all this. That came at a later stage.

Has history repeated itself with my children? My 10 year old is a couple of years down the line, but aside from knowing his prayers, he seldom talks about the power of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. My 8 year old, who is about to receive, just talks about how nervous he is, as he doesn’t know what to expect.

Let’s theorise for a moment. We have person A, Leanne, and person B, Maria. Leanne has around 12kg to lose in weight. She attends her local slimming club and takes direction from the “leader”. She follows the process, attends the weekly meetings, and gets results.  But does Leanne really understand HOW she is losing weight? Maria has the same amount to lose, but decides to work with a personal trainer and nutrition coach. This coach does not work in a prescriptive way and wants to teach Maria how she can lose the weight – and keep it off for the rest of her life. But Maria has to learn. She has to attend each session, read the emails that are sent, and do her homework. She loses weight, but now understands WHY and HOW her body reacts to certain things.

Who do you think will keep the weight off for longer (maybe even for life)?

Maria will have a stronger chance for sure. She has an understanding and an education, whereas Leanne has just been told what to do. So when she STOPS being told what to do, there is a likelihood that the weight will go back on.

Now, back to the 1st Holy Communion. The children are going through the programme and being told what to do, and have been for the past 8 months. How many of them do you think will willingly come to Mass each Sunday, attend an extra class on a Saturday, and ask their parents for spiritual guidance, without the “rules” that we as parents and Catechists have put into place? Not very many, I bet (if any at all).

I am perhaps guilty of not educating and supporting my children enough beyond taking them to Mass and to their classes, leaving it to the “professional” Catholics to work their magic. But how can I expect this new generation of Catholics to continue on with their faith, and teach it to their children and grandchildren, without the understanding that I have today?

It’s much like how I never expect my clients to stay with me forever. I expect them to listen, learn, and apply. If they do that, they get results, and the knowledge to be able to sustain this way of life – for good.

I welcome your thoughts on this subject!

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