Second grade is the year of First Communion. In Manila, it would’ve been a no brainer with Sam in my alma mater Catholic school. Here, because we send her to a non-secular public school, the choice was more deliberate.
Living outside of Manila has made one religious lesson in my senior year in high school stand out. Our professor drilled it into our heads that religion is both individual and communal, and that it is inclusive of other religions as well. I’ve not felt this to be more true than when I see the different cultures and religions (or non-religions) that surround my girls on a daily basis.
We are lucky to have such a wonderfully diverse community and be surrounded by friends and families with varying backgrounds. It’s a great learning experience and it teaches us all to be open and understanding of each one’s beliefs and upbringing.
I realized that growing up in a Catholic environment makes you take religion for granted. Living in a predominantly Catholic country, going to Catholic schools all my life, and being surrounded by people who live and breathe the Catholic faith is a very different environment than what Sam and Jamie have. I was born into this faith and for a majority of my life I knew of nothing else around it. But my children do.
Now, there are a lot of options for them; and what I knew to be black and white for me can potentially be a huge grey area for them. And because of this I strongly feel that my girls need a solid Catholic faith foundation; so they can navigate through it all later on. But the challenge was doing it outside our predominantly catholic bubble.
As part of their faith formation and in preparation for First Holy Communion, Sam had to attend religious education classes (as part of her after school activities) in our church once a week for two years. And up until the beginning of this year’s faith formation classes, we’d been very lax about taking them to church regularly. I didn’t want them to burn out so quickly, as church can get long and boring for young kids especially if they don’t see the relevance, so I didn’t want to force it on them just yet.
I liked the huge parent involvement at the onset. I was worried about not having the classes more regularly like we did back home when we were younger; but the Religious Coordinator made it clear: the biggest responsibility for faith formation is still with the parents. How we reinforced this at home (if at all), would make all the difference.
The church helped a lot. As part of their preparation they called all the first communicants to a set of masses where they were introduced to the congregation. The priest had the children promise to come to mass every Sunday, to attend mass on Holy Days of Obligation, to go to the Religious Ed classes every week, and to recite their prayers at home. Naturally, when Sam said “I promise”, she insisted on following it through. I can honestly say because of Sam, I’ve seen the inside of our church far more frequently since I’ve had kids.
Early on this year, the children were required to attend a parent-child retreat. Sam had been on a recollection-retreat before but our school never had the parents participate until the end, so this was a nice welcome surprise. And it turned out to be very worthwhile too.
We got some good Mom-Sam quality time together, with conversations that did not revolve around our schedules or other mundane things. There was quite the serene, but fun, atmosphere to it being in a convent around nuns.
It was a half-day session and very nicely done. The topics, lectures and activities were appropriate for the kids, and they had time to expend some energy too in their courtyard with bubbles, toys and other physical activity. At one point, they pulled the children for a craft and spoke to the parents about our role in this whole process. I have to admit it was a very very refreshing experience.
At this retreat, I also discovered, and then subsequently subscribed to MagnifiKids, a missalette subscription for kids. It has the entire mass, readings, responses and all for that particular Sunday, in a kid-friendly format.
Sam brings it with her to church every week, and during the priest’s homily, she reads the other parts of the magazine and does the activities. It has everything from a history lesson, to word meanings and context, to crossword puzzles. And best of all, it keeps the girls quiet yet appropriately entertained.
This whole process also reminded me that before Sam could get First Communion, she had to go and get the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
During our parent briefing, the Religious Education Coordinator was encouraging us to set the example for the children and go to confession before them. I initially scoffed at the idea, but come Reconciliation day, I was actually afraid! (Okay, laugh if you must.)
It’s been ages since my last (official) confession, and God knows my sins all too well. Thankfully Sam didn’t ask me to go before her, so I sat, reflected and prayed as I watched her from the sidelines walk up to the Priest, excited to “confess” and subsequently perform her penance.
The children were told that they didn’t need to tell the parents what they said to the priest, and we parents were instructed not to pry.
Finally, it was time for First Communion. Maga arrived for this important milestone. She brought with her Sam’s (and eventually Jamie’s) Ines Moda Infantil dress, the perfect gift from Ninang Kris (we love useful gifts).
Instead of our traditional stampitas, Sam and her classmates made banners that were used to decorate the church.
I was quite the ball of emotions, which was the excuse I used to sign Sam up for all the possible First Communion photos we could get. Yes, I am that sentimental mother.
The mass was very simple, and in a language and pace that the kids could understand. It ended with the children singing a song they prepared, and that was it. Short, simple but very meaningful.
I don’t remember being excited for my first communion (I was pretty sick I think), but you could clearly see Sam was. It seemed like the weekly sessions for the last two years had adequately prepared her for this date. Considering the fears I had coming into it all, I left that last session fairly impressed and very very thankful.
Every week since, Sam has asked to receive her second communion, and third and fourth (and so on). I pray she doesn’t lose that eagerness, and remembers the reason why we hear mass and take communion in the first place.
I have faint memories of my first communion. Even the preparation that went into it is a distant memory. Thankfully I took the coordinator’s advice and stayed involved. I re-lived it all vicariously through Sam, and what great timing too. And again, I’m amazed at how something I’ve done routinely for years and perhaps, have taken for granted, was brought back fresh and new through the innocent eyes of my child. 🙂