Friday, January 23, 2009

First Communion

Last month, my soon-to-be-eight-year-old daughter accomplished her First Communion, a landmark event in every young Catholic’s religious life. I still dimly remember mine, and just think, it occurred roughly around the same timeframe that JFK was assassinated, which I also mostly remember. Yes it's true, I really AM that old.

Alas, my girls no longer live with me. I met them and their mom on a Wednesday morning in front of their town’s large Catholic cathedral; every town in the Philippines worth its salt has one, or two or three. Most, if not all, still use the old-fashioned wooden pews with slightly cushioned kneelers.

xxxxxxxxxxxx One of my mom's First Communion Photos

My heart melted when I caught my first glimpse of my little girl in her simple white dress and veil. She ran to me and gave me a big hug. I’m trying to think of the words: cute, pretty, sweet, they all apply, but they aren’t enough. Seeing her in that white dress, white signifying purity of spirit and devotion to God, absolutely choked me up and rendered my heart.

I remember thinking, ‘If only she could stay this innocent and perfect.’ Thinking it over these few weeks later, I say, ‘Well, she’s such a sweet kid; there’s no reason why she won’t always be just like that.’ And it’s true; to Dads, their daughters are forever their sweet little girls. In fact, my oldest daughter, almost 30, now with three little ones of her own, and my second oldest girl at 27, also with her own little sweetie angel, are both still “my girls,” and always will be.
Just like many other similar "happenings" in this country the First Communion I witnessed that day was more “production” than simple ceremony. Teachers and assistants really turn such things into momentous shows, nothing at all like the mostly uncomplicated rituals that I went through as a kid. I remember my nuns using clickers to let us know when to sit, kneel and stand. We had to go from here to there and then back to the first place. We sang a few hymns and had to remember to point our praying hand fingers directly up, toward God in Heaven, as we made our way to communion and back. Indeed, I wasn’t able to see my girls the weekend before “the big communion event,” because she “needed to practice” for most of both Saturday and Sunday. I don’t think I would have done such a thing when I was 7; I probably would have revolted, or at the very least moaned and whined a lot.

Then again, I noticed that the little boy communicants were not nearly as “into” the “performance” as their little girl counterparts. I have to admit, in so many ways, little girls, and big girls too for that matter, are so much more superior to boys and especially us “big boys.” Sometimes men are just lazy punks. Sometimes?

I spent most of the two plus hours of the service with my 5 year old girl. I was proud of her. She probably squirmed less than I did on that uncomfortable wooden pew during the whole of the interminable length of time it took us to get through that holy Catholic sacrament.
Truth be told though, I was happy to spend it with her since I get so little time with my girls anymore. I miss them terribly. Anymore, not seeing them for days at a time is like trying to hold my breath under water, and seeing them again is the same wonderful relief I get when I come out of the water and take that first big lungful of air.
What I considered to be an over lengthy service notwithstanding, I was both relieved and saddened to be at the end of it. I was happy to get off that unyielding wooden bench, but I was sad to have to leave my girls again. As for my daughter, she was proud of her new more grown-up status in The Church and was not the least put off by the length of all the pomp and circumstance that it took to attain it. I’m thinking now that the only one to feel even the slightest bit of impatience with the whole thing was cranky old me.


Anonymous said...

cranky...true, but loveable. I hope that soon you will be able to see them more often. I know you love them, so.

Ed said...

First communion isn't nearly a big a deal over here which is fortunate for me since I have a hard time sitting for that long on hard pews too.

KA said...

This is why I will not get married in the Philippines> My aunt had her wedding there and it was just too much froo-froo.

Amadeo said...

More austere signs of this old ritual then.

Remember communicants had to fast from any food or drink, except water, from midnight to the reception. So imagine a little girl being starved that long. I do recall some of fragile ones getting ready to faint. I actually recall parents bringing food to church so the child could be fed right after the reception.

Now an hour is sufficient, even for adult alcholic beverages.