Your First Holy Communion
I welcome the families of the 17 children who will make their First Holy Communion today. They are dressed as brides and grooms to witness to all the world that God offers Himself to humanity in divine espousal. Yesterday two girls came to class dressed already in their First Communion outfits. “Why are you dressed like little brides?” I asked them. “Because Jesus wants to marry us?” one of them offered. And she was right. Jesus longs to join Himself to us in chaste and loving union forever, in what we call Holy Communion. These children are witnesses of these things, just as was Peter in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The once timid fisherman witnesses boldly, clearly, and serenely to the government officials: “You hung Jesus on a tree, but God raised him up. We are witnesses of these things, for we must obey God rather than men.”
Our second reading comes from the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the summary conclusion and last word of all of Scripture. In Revelation, the apostolic witness takes on cosmic dimensions. “I, John, looked and heard the voices” of countless angels surrounding the throne with myriads of living creatures and 24 elders (the number of apostles times two), and they cried out as with one voice: “worthy is the lamb that was slain.” Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and the sea echoed: “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, wisdom and strength, for ever and ever to God.” This is what we do in the Mass. We witness to God’s glory; we witness to eternal love, and to God’s authority and everlasting dominion. The Sunday Mass is our first and most essential act of witness, upon which the salvation of souls depends.
Peter’s Triple Witness
Where did St. Peter get the serene clarity that he displays in the first reading (“We must obey God rather than men … we are witnesses of these things….”)? Isn’t Peter the one who denied Christ three times the night before Passover? Yes, Peter denied Jesus, not once like Judas, but three times! How many times have you denied Jesus? How many times do we confess the same sin in those confessionals, often with a sense of great discouragement? We are all weak in the face of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But God is strong. And God returns from the hell to which we have sent Him; He rises from the dead and meets Peter again at the lakeshore. Again they witness a great catch of fish, and Peter, hoping against hope that God still loves him, hurls himself into the water toward Jesus. When Peter finally makes it to shore, Jesus asks him three times if he loves him, one for each of his denials. And still Peter falters. In the original Greek Jesus asks Peter “Simon, do you love (agape) me?” and Peter replies “I like (filia) you.” Jesus gives Peter two more chances to say that word “love.” Can you say that you love me, Peter? Will you give your life for me, as I am still ready to give my life again for you. It would take another thirty years, but in the end Peter accepted God’s mercy. He died on a cross in the year 64AD in Rome, under the persecutions of the Emperor Nero, for love of Jesus Christ. Divine Mercy received; Divine Mercy given. That is Peter’s essential witness.
You Cannot Live Without Him
Children: this is your First Holy Communion. It is the first time you will receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus into your bodies and souls. You cannot live without Holy Communion, because we cannot live without love. Scientists have shown how children growing up without any human touch, without loving attention, simply do not develop as humans. They cannot speak and they hardly move. We are made for greater things, to love and to be loved. As you grow older, you will thirst for love more and more. As teenagers you will want someone to understand you; as young adults you will need someone to be there for you; as adults you will need someone to hold you and to know you. No human being can love you as much as you need. But God, who comes to you in Holy Communion, can love you that much. Our Lady, whom we honor in this month of May, stayed very close to God. She was the first ever to receive him in Holy Communion when she said yes to the angel Gabriel, and the Word became flesh within her body. When you say Amen in a few minutes, the Word of God will become flesh within you just like it did in her. And you will be witnesses of these things!