A week from today my daughter will make her first communion. It’s a big deal. I know it’s a big deal. But I’ve only been Catholic for a year. I feel a little awkward attending classes with my daughter, trying to guide her through something that I myself don’t quite understand.
There’s so much I still don’t know. For example, am I supposed to genuflect every time I go into the pew at Mass or just the first time? Can I still use my rosary even though the cat ate one of the Our Father beads? I don’t know.
And for her—do we need to get a veil or something for next week? Or white gloves? We haven’t covered that yet.
I have no nostalgic anecdotes to share with my daughter. I don’t have that story that begins, “When I was your age” or “At my first communion” because our experiences are so different.
In my RCIA prep classes no topic was off the table. We talked openly about our feelings toward the church’s stance on marriage. We talked about the implications of having a Pope Benedict versus a Pope Francis and how it made us feel as parents to join a church that we felt still had to answer for the scandals brought to light in recent years.
I came to the church from a place that needed to take the doubt and cynicism that I had harbored for many years and reconcile it with the good feeling I had when I came to Mass. My daughter comes to church because we bring her there every Sunday.
So what I am going to tell my eight-year-old about what it’s like to be Catholic?
Two weeks ago we sat a table in the cafeteria across the parking lot, where we have the Faith Formation classes, filling out worksheets, sounding out words such as “chalice” and “Eucharist.” She was doing the little dance she does when she’s excited about something, wiggling a little from side to side. This was different from when we did homework together, something had shifted. We weren’t working in tandem anymore. A part of her mind was someplace else, a place I don’t have access to.
We were sitting in the green-tiled room that is so familiar to her. She had her first Easter egg hunt there at St. Augustine’s in that room. At Halloween, she paraded around the tables with her brothers. Last year during one of my RCIA classes, the family decorated Christmas cookies there, baked in the ovens in the cafeteria’s kitchen. This is her home. A place that keeps the figurines for the Nativity scene in the basement and has an organ in the balcony, and she knows this because we come to decorate the church several times a year. In November there’s an altarcito where we put out a picture of Grandpa. In October there’s Bless the Pets day when we bring the cat (to be forgiven for chewing on the rosary).
For her the church is very simple. The Pope is a nice man in a white hat. The God she knows is Social-Justice Jesus, who hugs lepers and reminds us to be nice to people. This is the community that she knows—this is the community she is going to join.
I watch my daughter. She’s glowing from the inside out, chewing on her lip. Her eyes are shining. And as she hums to herself and spells “communion” with three m’s, I realize that I don’t always have to be the one who teaches. She doesn’t always have to learn from me. That maybe this time I am learning from her and her idea of the church.