Today we had First Holy Communions in the parish – one of the highlights of the year, everybody dressed up to the hilt. In my homily I spoke about the meaning and importance of Holy Communion in our lives. This is the essence of what I said.
All of us can remember our first Holy Communion regardless of our age. Why is it so important for us Catholics? The key to its importance can be seen in how the boys and girls are dressed up like bride grooms and brides. So what is the connection between Christian marriage and Holy Communion?
At the end of the day it is all about relationships. The happiness of our lives is determined principally not by our possessions, wealth or occupation. Rather our happiness depends on the quality of our core relationships – between spouses, parents and children, siblings and other close friends. This is so because God being a Trinity is about relationships: Father and Son united in the love of the Holy Spirit.
In Christian marriage, a man and woman fall in love. As a result they want to live a united, common life. Furthermore they want to give themselves to the other person – mutual self-gift.
God loved us first and before the beginning of time, had included us in his master plan, knowing when exactly he would bring us into the world. As the Penny Catechism would put it: to know him, love him and serve him in this life and be with happy with him forever in eternity. As we grow in our faith and appreciate this great love, we naturally want to respond to it.
Like married love, there is the instinct to be united, us and Jesus. Holy Communion is a primary way that brings this about. Communion means COMMON UNION. When we receive it, Jesus actually comes inside us and lives in our heart. This is a great gift of Jesus and a great mystery too. He told us in today’s gospel: “On that day you will understand that… you [are] in me and I [am] in you.” Imagine when you and granny hug: it is a comforting expression of love and closeness but you are OUTSIDE each other. In Holy Communion, we are INSIDE Jesus and Jesus is INSIDE us. Truly amazing!
When people love each other, they desire to give themselves to the other – like the husband who wants to give himself to his wife and the wife who wants to give herself to her husband.
When and how did Jesus give himself to us? Well the greatest self-gift is when we die for somebody. Jesus did this on Good Friday when he died to pay the price for our sins. But this self-giving of Jesus continues throughout time and happens in a special way at Mass. Each time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus gives himself to us as the Bread of Life, food for our souls. This gives us the help that we need to live a holy life, it gives us hope and strength when we get discouraged or sick.
The most important Holy Communion we ever receive is at the end of our lives as part of the Last Rites. This Holy Communion is called Viaticum which means food for the journey. It strengthens us for death, the Final Judgement, the final purification of Purgatory and finally the entry into eternal glory. In this way it is like the Manna that fed the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land.
In what way do we give ourselves to Jesus? Well firstly, this happens when we give time to prayer. Friends always want to communicate with each other. Secondly each time we come to Mass, we place our lives on the altar through the offertory gifts: the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. The priest then offers to God all of what is going on in our lives. Thirdly, we give ourselves to Jesus through the effort to be faithful to the Ten Commandments. As he told us in the gospel: “If you love me you will keep my Commandments.” We all know that in today’s world, the Commandments – and the Christian way of life in general – is highly counter cultural.
In summary: Our relationship with Jesus is like Christian marriage: Jesus gives himself to us and we give ourselves to Jesus. Holy Communion is an important way that Jesus can live in our hearts as our special friend and give us the strength to grow in holiness.