The year was 1965. Up until that point, I had been baptized and sent to Catholic school but this November I was due to receive two sacraments, Confession and Holy Communion. I was not yet seven years old and I took my religious instruction seriously.
By the day of my first confession, I had memorized the introduction with the “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” but I wasn’t really sure what to say after that. Which horrible sin should I admit to? I’d gotten sent to my room often enough. I must’ve done something wrong. As instructed, I examined my conscience. Oh yes, I recalled. I’d been fighting with my sister. From that point on, “fighting with my sister” became my standard confession when I couldn’t think of anything else to report. That day, in the darkened confessional, everything went smoothly and for my penance I was to say three Hail Mary’s. How’d that priest know my sister’s name was Mary?
The next day, with my soul cleared and dressed all in white, I received the next sacrament, Holy Communion. I knew the drill. The priest says, “The body and blood of Christ” and I stick out my tongue. All went well. I waited to swallow the host until I was back kneeling in my pew. I was actually a little disappointed that I didn’t feel anything special. Oh well, maybe next time.
I was, however, excited that afterward, Mom and Dad gave me a new corduroy jacket AND we were traveling to Connecticut to visit our cousins, John and Louise, in New Milford. The ride was uneventful but as we pulled up their long driveway, I have to say, I was impressed. They had a house and a barn and a bull in the field. There were kids to play with and there were chickens running around. I was in my glory. My favorite part of the afternoon involved sliding down the ramp of the chicken coop, one after another, over and over again. It never once occurred to me that I was wearing a new special jacket.
Evening rolled around. We’d been well fed and the adults were clearly enjoying themselves. They’d gathered around the big long table for a game called Pokeno. It was similar to bingo but instead of chips, they were playing with pennies. The lucky winner each round won all the pennies.
I joyfully moved from lap to lap, loving the excitement.
Despite my young age, I knew that John and Louise had
something really special going on at their farm in Connecticut. It dawned on me, at some point, that THIS was communion; the family all together having such a wonderful time, enjoying each other’s company. I felt the Holy Spirit in my heart.
The American College Dictionary describes communion as:
1) the act of sharing or holding in common; participation. 2)the state of things so held
3) association, fellowship
4) interchange of thoughts or interests
I felt it all; the warmth, the happiness, the security of being part of a big, happy family. I had received the sacrament after all!
The next day, on our way back home, my newly found state of grace began to fade. My parents were not thrilled about the condition of my jacket. I accepted their admonishment, but for me, the new yet well-worn coat was a symbol of the contentment, joy, and camaraderie I’d experienced. I knew then, I would forever fondly remember my first communion.
This story is dedicated to my cousins, John and Louise Heaton.