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Recommitting ourselves to the Living Bread come down from heaven

A priest elevates the host during Mass. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Father John is mixed up,” said the second-grader preparing for her First Communion.

It was a little more nuanced than that, but Leah Claire’s obvious love for the Eucharist and excitement over receiving Jesus moved me. It also reminded me of the incredible gift we have in the Eucharist, and, sadly, how many of us don’t receive that gift regularly.

I was in Richmond celebrating a wedding for a good friend of mine, whom I baptized years ago. At the reception after the wedding, the bride’s sister – whose wedding I had also celebrated – came to talk to me. She told me that her daughter, Leah Claire, was scheduled to receive her First Communion in a few months, but they had a problem.

The problem was a big dance contest that got scheduled for the exact same day and time. Leah Claire had joined a dance group in the fall, and she is quite good. It would be disappointing to have worked for the previous eight months and miss the contest.

I said to her mother, “We can take care of this. I will do a separate First Communion for Leah Claire at a later time.” We mentioned this to Leah Claire, and rather than showing excitement, she looked at me kind of dumbfounded – as if to say, “Really?”

I found out later that Leah Claire told her mother, “Father John is mixed up. He thinks a dance contest is more important than First Communion.”

That’s a 7-year-old who gets it, probably better than many of us adults do.

In God’s providence, everything worked out great. The dance contest was moved to the afternoon, and Leah Claire received First Communion with her classmates. Her dance team even won the competition and qualified for another contest in Philadelphia.

But there’s more to the story. One of my good friends, Leah Claire’s aunt, was there for her First Communion. She told me that Leah Claire was dancing with excitement in the vestibule before Mass. She absolutely could not wait to receive Jesus. During the Our Father and Sign of Peace as the time for Communion was approaching, Leah Claire again showed her excitement saying, “It’s coming!”

I love Leah Claire’s excitement for the Eucharist. I love that she thought I was “mixed up.” I love the way she did not hide her emotions and her faith. I love that she could not wait to receive Jesus.

I give a lot of credit to her parents and the religious education program she attends near Rehoboth Beach. I pray she never loses the excitement and awe and wonder of the Eucharist.

I also pray hope that all of us rediscover or acquire that same love for the Eucharist. That’s been the goal of the National Eucharistic Revival these last three years, culminating in the National Eucharistic Congress. We have an incredible gift directly from the hands and words of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself becomes part of us as he encourages us to abide in him.

I think the most important way we do this is to commit to it becoming part of our week, especially at a time when only about 20 percent of Catholics say they attend Mass weekly. Our week is not complete if we do not receive the Eucharist. We have an opportunity to be with the Lord in a special way – to receive him into our very selves – and we let it go by.

We sometimes call this a sacrificial meal. It is the Last Supper and the Cross of Calvary together in the gift of an unbloodied sacrifice for our salvation that we can celebrate as often as we wish – at least on Sundays, but even every single day if we can.

I encourage all of us to get the practice going again, and to come to it with engaged minds, hearts, and souls. Vatican II called the Eucharist “the source and summit of Christian life.” It is food for our journeys – the journeys of our very salvation. This is arguably the most important thing we can do each week, and it should not be skipped because of sports, sleeping in, vacation, or anything else.

I learned that from my parents, and I believe it is our responsibility as parents and older members of the Church to pass on our faith in and love of the Eucharist to children and grandchildren. They are watching. Whether we say it out loud or not, they see in us what we believe and what we value. If we don’t love the Eucharist, they probably won’t either.

Leah Claire inspires me to be a better priest, to love the Eucharist even more. There’s a well-known saying that is also on a plaque in many sacristies: “Priest of Jesus Christ celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” I think we would all approach the Eucharist differently if it were our first, last, or only time to receive Jesus.

My simple prayer today is, “Lord, help us to love you more by loving the Eucharist more and opening ourselves up to receive you – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.” I hope you’ll join me in a special effort to make the Eucharist more central in our lives. It is heavenly food for the journey; all we need do is accept it.

(Msgr. John Enzler serves as the mission advocate of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and is a chaplain at his alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington. He writes the Faith in Action column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites.)