It's Sunday at 9:29 a.m., one minute before Mass starts, and I am in the front seat of my Jeep tapping on the steering wheel and waiting not so patiently for my 10-year-old daughter Emily, who has raced back into the house because "I forgot something, Mom."
Moments later, she bolts out of the front door and jumps up onto the seat next to me. As I steer the car backwards and race out of the driveway, I glance down into her lap. There, clutched in her hands is the pocket-sized white plastic book, the one that rests on her nightstand, the one that spent almost four decades on mine. Its pages are torn and tattered, the buckle clasp that used to lock the treasure inside snapped off. It was the gift I received from my parents for my First Communion some 30-plus years ago. It is called Welcome Jesus: A Prayer Book for First Communicants (The Bruce Publishing Company, 1953).
During those years, when hurts and frustrations mounted, I turned to the picture pages of Jesus carrying the crucifix and instantly found comfort, knowing my friend, Jesus, suffered so for me and for others. On my Communion day, the day I received the book, I met a new friend. When Emily made her First Communion almost three years ago, I wanted to share that exquisite friendship. I gave her my book.
Since then, it has become more than just a source of daily reflection and reference in times of need for Emily. It is a standard morning addition to her backpack, a must-bring to Sunday Mass, and the font of wisdom when her crush rebukes her, her best friend is on vacation and the adults in her life, mostly me-"MOOOOOM!"-force her to endure "challenges" she finds demanding and unfair. As she explains: "It helps me talk to Jesus when I sometimes don't know the right words to say."
Therein lies the minor miracle: Emily got it. She got First Communion.
During the days, weeks, and months leading up to Emily's First Communion, I doubted that my youngest child would walk away with anything more than the feeling that she had been part of a photo shoot for a major magazine and an underprivileged communicant whose event was shattered by her mother's lack of attention to glitz and glamour.
Indeed, suddenly First Communions have become extravaganzas, rivaling in many ways the pomp and circumstances once first experienced on one's wedding day.
I, for one, was left reeling in the wake of all this splashy sparing of no expense. As a mother of two other children who had experienced this Roman Catholic rite of passage just five and eight years, respectively, before, I was astonished and appalled at how First Communions, for Emily's generation, had suddenly become a commercial three-ring circus. Where had the solemnity of the day gone?
As I was busy hand-sewing my grandmother's rosary and a felt chalice onto the banner that would mark our family pew and celebrate the moment Emily first received the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of wafer and wine, her peer's parents were busy scouring the Yellow Pages for the best selections of silk, lace, tulle, and taffeta. Digging deep into their pockets, they were plunking down big bucks for everything from jewelry and fancy shoes to expensive halls and meals. This once sacred event was fast becoming the hottest new business op in town-the First Communion market.
All of a sudden I was bombarded by: "Gina's mom is taking her to a fashion show for dresses." "Mom, where are we going to have my party? Mary's party is at that hotel." "Mom, when are we going to get my jewelry?" "Can I go with Kelly that morning to the salon to get my nails done?"
Matching headpieces embellished in pearls, sequins, and lace? Faux-fur matching capes? Rose bouquets? Appointments at the hairdressers for swept up "dos"? And hundreds of dollars as gifts? These sound like the tick list for a modest wedding.
I refused to be sucked in.
At the time, it all seemed "not fair Mom," according to Emily. "Why can't we be like everyone else?"