“So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.’
“The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephan, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”
These were the first seven deacons. They were ordained. The Apostles prayed and laid hands on them, just like the Bishops do today, and the word of God continued to spread.
Anyone who has received Holy Orders, priest or deacon, will tell you that your life is never the same again. You are blessed in so many ways that it’s hard to describe them all. For example, last Saturday, I had the privilege of giving my granddaughter her first communion. It was one of the best days of my life. I can’t even begin to explain the feeling of sharing the Precious Blood of Jesus with my own granddaughter. It was awesome!
In the twelve years since I was ordained I’ve had the opportunity to share in so many joyful events. Marriages, baptisms, first communions, confirmations. Even funerals, which don’t seem so joyful, have a certain peace and even joy in knowing that the person who has left this life has gone on the next. Also in knowing that just maybe, I’ve done or said something that helps ease the mourners’ pain.
Of course, it’s not all bunny rabbits and cotton candy. If you read on in the Acts of the Apostles, you’ll see that Stephen wasn’t just the first deacon, he was also the first martyr. He was stoned to death. They told us in formation that Steve was doing fine until he opened his mouth. Then they killed him. But the good far outweighs the bad.
Getting back to Bella’s first communion, in his homily Father told us that while first communion is important SECOND COMMUNION is even more important. Face it, for a lot of our young people, first communion is driven by their school. Whether they’re in full-time Catholic school or in PSR, there’s peer pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Throw in a fancy dress, a party, and presents and what kid wouldn’t want to join in the fun.
But, for some kids, the thrill is gone after the first time. And that’s just wrong! Receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior should be just as exciting when you’re seventy years old as it was when you were seven. Sadly, that’s often not the case. The kids in Bella’s class were encouraged to wear their first communion outfits to mass the following day. According to my daughter-in-law, about a third of the kids showed up. But it’s not their fault. I know very few second-graders who can drive. If they want to go to mass, their parents have to take them. What kind of message are they giving their kids when they blow off church the very next day? Then we wonder why our young people don’t go to mass.
Another thing I noticed, the first communicants sat in the front half of the pews and their parents sat in the back half. The kids were singing, and praying, and participating with joy and enthusiasm. Their parents, not so much. A lot of them were sitting with their arms folded, looking bored to death. As I was watching them, I wondered what would happen the next time they went to mass together. Would the kids’ enthusiasm rub off on mom and dad or would the parents’ apathy rub off on the kids? I’m afraid I wouldn’t like the answer to that question.
Jesus loved kids and He told us we should be child-like in our faith. But are we? I’ll admit that sometimes it’s easy to get distracted. If you made your first communion at age seven, and if you go to mass every weekend, and you’re now sixty-five, you’ve been to mass more than 3,000 times. And that doesn’t include Christmas and other Holy Days. That’s a lot of communion. But how many miracles is too many? And make no mistake, the Eucharist is a miracle. Father turns ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Even though the bunnies and colored eggs are long gone, we’re still in the Easter Season. The last thing Jesus did before he suffered and died for us was to establish the Eucharist. Even though He hasn’t walked among us as a human being for more then 2,000 years, He wanted to remain a physical presence in our lives. He does that through the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Many non-Catholic Christians, who insist that every word of Scripture must be taken literally, say that He didn’t really mean it when He said “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”. They say it was just a symbol; that He’s not really present in the Eucharist. But we know better.
In John 6:53 and 54, “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” What happened next? Many of the people walked away. They said, “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”
Since Jesus was sent by His Father to bring people to Him, don’t you think He would have said, “Wait. Don’t go. I was only speaking figuratively”? If He wasn’t speaking literally, then this was a major setback. But no. He let them go. Because He meant what He said and if someone wouldn’t believe Him, then He had to watch them walk away because He was God and He couldn’t lie. If you don’t believe everything He said, then you can’t believe anything He said. You’re a doubter, just like Thomas.
In the Gospel today Jesus promises the disciples that He’s going to prepare a place for them (and for us). But good old Thomas questioned Him. “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way.” What did Jesus say? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thomas answered by asking Jesus to show him the Father. Poor Tom, he just didn’t get it.
But we get it. At least I hope we do. Jesus gave everything for us. He didn’t have to. He could have stayed in heaven. He could have abandoned us. He could have said, “No thanks, Dad. I’m not going to go down there to be tortured and killed. I’m happy right here.” But He didn’t. He loved us too much.
In a few minutes we’re going to have the opportunity to eat His Body (and drink His Blood); to take His physical Presence into our own bodies. It’s a miracle and it’s a great gift. Whether it’s your first communion or your three thousandth communion, it’s still the same gift. It’s still the same miracle.
Jesus loved kids. He told us we must have a child-like faith. FAITH. It’s the biggest five letter word in the English language. It’s easy to say but sometimes it’s hard to do. As intellectual human beings it’s hard for us to believe some of the things He asks us to believe. He walked on water. He cured the sick and raised the dead with just His Word. He left us the sacrament of the Eucharist where the priest, again using just words, changes ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Son of God. Without child-like faith, how are we supposed to believe this stuff?
We believe it because we do have faith. Maybe, for some of us or even most of us, our faith isn’t so child-like anymore. Maybe we approach the altar out of habit, or because we think it’s something we’re supposed to do. That kind of thinking is the reason so many Catholics don’t go to mass anymore. How do we get them back? That’s a question that people a lot of people much smarter than I am can’t figure out. But I think the answer is simple. We have to be on fire with the love of Jesus. We have to make them want what we’ve got. But to do that, we have to be full of joy for the gifts we’ve been given. Our friends and family have to see how much in love we really are.
We have to burn with the same excitement that my granddaughter felt last Saturday when she received this great gift for the first time.
God never changes. Jesus never changes. We change. But we have the God-given ability to change for the better. Remember, he promised us free will. He never makes us do anything. But, like any parent, He wants us to want to be near Him. He wants us to love Him as much as He loves us.
Has our fire burned out? If so, now’s the time to get it going again; for our own sake, and for the sake of those around us. We can do that. He said we could.