Leah Gullace receives her first Communion from Father Larry Swink, pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Church, during Mass in Huntingtown, Md. in 2014. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Longing to Receive Jesus

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Father David BonnarHave you ever longed for something? Thirty-six years ago, I boarded a jumbo jet at New York’s JFK Airport on my way to Rome where I would spend the next four years preparing for the priesthood. In those days, we were not permitted to come home until after our second year. I was already beginning to feel homesick as the plane made its ascent into the evening sky.

For two years I dreamed of that homecoming. I could not wait to return home and be with my family. On the day of my departure from Rome to New York, I was overflowing with anticipation. The final leg of the journey placed me in a smaller plane from New York to Pittsburgh. It was a short flight, but it seemed like an eternity. I had all these visions of what it would be like walking down the ramp to see my family. I could not wait to see them.

As it happened, I walked down the ramp and, to my surprise, only my one sister and her family were there. My parents were caught in traffic. They were actually in a fender bender on the way to the airport that caused residual delays. The moment I longed for was delayed. Later on, they arrived and there were lots of hugs and kisses. I knew I was home and all the anguish of waiting and worrying disappeared.

I thought of this moment as I prepared to celebrate one of many more-to-come first holy Communions Masses with six second graders and their families. Because of the pandemic, the moment that these children longed for was delayed. When the moment finally arrived, it was probably not as they anticipated, inasmuch as it was not on a Sunday during the Easter season, nor was there any music. It was a very simple celebration with masks and social distancing.

This past weekend, I shared with the little ones that longing as we celebrated public Masses for the first time in three months. Those who attended clearly demonstrated a longing to receive Jesus. In fact, some of them had tears streaming into their masks. That is how much people long for Jesus in their lives.

Although the children’s celebration did not happen in the customary way, it was still sacred and special. The children were all dressed up. They knew that they were going to meet a very special person for the first time. And their families were right there beside them sharing in the moment. At the conclusion of the Mass I blessed the religious articles they had received. Afterward, the families gathered outdoors for a host of pictures.

The pandemic has made us all see the holy Eucharist with new eyes. The absence of the Eucharist, no doubt, has intensified our longing for Jesus. The celebration of first holy Communion made that longing all the more real. These little ones took us big ones back to our own first time when we met Jesus. What a gift! This will be repeated again and again in our parish over the next few weeks. Of course, wherever or whenever Jesus is received in the Eucharist, we are always to go forth and, in the words of St. Augustine, “become what we receive” and be Christ to one another.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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