By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published April 30, 2009
Most of us would tend to regard the profession of teaching as the fine art of transmitting learning from the teacher to the pupil, and indeed that is the ordinary progression and directional flow in the classroom. But most teachers will candidly tell you that they often learn as much from their students as they might impart by way of wisdom. At first blush, one might think that to be the case in a university setting where the students are young adults who are quite capable of reflecting deeply on quite serious topics. Yet I have found that even our youngest students can offer important insights that cause me to pause and think about the penetrating truth of their reflections.
Last Monday, I was a substitute teacher for some second-graders at Queen of Angels School in Roswell. I won that particular honor as part of a school fundraiser that promised the Archbishop as guest teacher.
I was invited to share in the preparation for these youngsters as they were in the last days before their First Holy Communion. They were very excited about my time with them—and, in truth, so was the Archbishop! We had a wonderful time going over the different parts of the Mass and the immediate predictable questions that 7-year-olds have before such a momentous event in their young lives.
They asked all of the appropriate questions regarding the Eucharist, and then a number of them raised some rather profound observations about what they were about to experience. One youngster commented that a grandfather was coming to the First Holy Communion Mass to share the joy of the day with the family—even though he did not usually go to Sunday Mass.
I was stunned at the candor and yet the obvious desire on the part of this second-grader that this special day would somehow influence a grandparent to return to the regular practice of church attendance. I thought to myself, where did this child learn about a grandfather’s infrequent Mass attendance? Probably the adults in her life had casually mentioned that this First Holy Communion celebration would be the occasion for his return to church. However this information might have been communicated, the child was hopeful that grandpa would share not only the joy of a First Holy Communion but initiate his eventual return to regular Mass attendance.
Our children see and hear everything about them. They realize that their First Holy Communion not only impacts their young lives but has the potential to reinvigorate the religious practices of the adults in their world. They understand that all of the fuss about dresses, new suits, flowers, rosaries, religious medals, family pictures and parties must also include the gathering of those who are the central figures in their young world to share this happy moment, perhaps for the first time in a long time.
Indeed this time of year brings home many folks who may not have been at Mass for a while. For at least one youngster about to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time, having grandpa there will only add to the special quality of the day. Hopefully even grandpa will understand that the child’s joy will be increased knowing that Jesus is coming to her for the first time and may begin a renewed relationship with him as well! Quite an insight for a 7-year-old, I might add!