MAY 2, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic VOL. 51, NO. 5 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
The unfolding beauty of the month of May in itself lifts up our hearts and our spirits. In the morning in chapel, I can hear birds singing to welcome the daybreak. Walking outside we can see flowers blooming and plants sprouting. Especially in this Easter season, the celebration of Sunday Eucharist becomes endowed with a special brightness, a renewed hope and a sense of joy in the Risen Lord.
Mary belongs in the middle of all of this. Just as she was “with the apostles in the upper room in prayer” when the Risen Christ filled them with the Holy Spirit, so she is with us in this Easter season watching over us, guiding us, inspiring us to come ever closer to her Son, live ever more fully His life and belong ever more deeply to Christ, His Church and one another.
There are many ways we can bring Mary more fully into our lives. There is none better than the rosary. Every pope during my lifetime has urged us to pray the rosary and they have shown in so many ways their own devotion to the Mother of God, especially through the faithful daily prayer and meditation that the rosary is. In this they have echoed the call of Mary to the children at Fatima to pray the rosary daily. Blessed Pope John Paul II not only gave us a beautiful meditation on the rosary. In that letter he gave us a whole new series of mysteries, the luminous mysteries. Placed between the joyful and sorrowful mysteries, these meditations on the life of the Lord on earth invite us to meditate on moments that connect to the sacraments and to our own lives even as we deepen our understanding of Jesus’ teaching and actions in the Gospels. In the Eastern Churches, there is an ancient tradition, called the Akathistos. The word means “standing up” because the monks would recite these twelve or more stanzas of prayer and praise of Mary while standing. There are many akathistoi but the ones to Mary are particularly beautiful and inspiring.
As the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, Mary surely is never more present than when she is invoked on behalf of children. Her own maternal love can do nothing other than embrace children at those most important and tender moments of their lives. When parents bring their newborn children to the font of baptism, one sees immediately in the eyes of the mother the kind of love that Mary has not only for her own Son but for all of us, her adopted children by grace. And in this month dedicated to her, all of our parish churches witness the especially moving moments of first Holy Communion by girls and boys who, for the first time, receive the body and blood of her Son in the Eucharist. This sharing in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist begins a life long journey of faith and love in which each child for the rest of his or her life will be able to be nourished by the real, true and transsubstantial body and blood of Jesus Christ, his greatest gift He left the Church the night before he died.
First Communion Masses are hallmark of these weeks of May in every parish. They should be shared with family, friends and parishioners with great anticipation and holy joy. Everyone present should enter into the Mass with a sense of reverence, respect and recollection. We are called to share the mystery of life and love and we should all conduct ourselves accordingly. The children should be helped to focus on the gift of Jesus that is given to them for the first time in their lives of faith. The wonder and awe we all should have for who Jesus is and how He gives us this sacred food should be experienced by one and all, child and parents, family and friends, in a sense of deep gratitude and thanksgiving. Recently Pope Benedict, reflecting on his own first Communion, called us to keep in mind the sacredness of the moment and act in ways that do not turn this holy day into a spectacle or even an immoderate display that sacrifices the spirit of holy joy to the excesses of a lavish party.
In his apostolic letter, Sacramentum Caritatis, he reminds us of how important this day is for children and for all of us as Church. For many of the faithful, this day continues to be memorable as the moment when, even in a rudimentary way, they first came to understand the importance of an encounter with Jesus. The day should not be spoiled by the needs of adults to show off or outdo others in lavish spending.
The encounter with Jesus should continue every Sunday for the rest of their lives! Children need to be shown by their parents that Sunday Eucharist is the very heart of being a Catholic. That can happen only if the parents themselves come regularly to Sunday Eucharist. I hear from priests and from catechists of instances in which parents complain when they are reminded that Sunday Mass is an obligation not just for children or for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Some seem to think it is theirs to decide whether or not they care to worship God as Catholics. Sunday Mass is not an “option” for a Catholic. The Scillitan martyrs in 180 were sent to their death by the Roman governor because they would not give up Sunday Eucharist. “Without Sunday Eucharist, we cannot live!” We Catholics of today should never forget their example or their message.
It strikes me as I write these words that none of this probably applies to you who read this newspaper. But you probably know some Catholics who need to be invited back to Sunday Mass. You probably know some parents who need to recognize that they are the first educators of their children in the faith. Their example of the wonderful and soul saving practice of Sunday Eucharist is the best “lesson for life” they can give their children.
As much as Mary loves children, she equally loves their parents, knows “first-hand” the challenges parents face and the love they have for their children. In this, her month, may she watch over all parents and all children. May her example inspire parents to be models of faith and love to their children so that they will encounter Jesus not just at their first communion but at all the Sunday Eucharist for the rest of their lives!