I spent five years, as a new Catholic, looking for a friendly welcome. I wanted coffee and smiling faces and a place in the Church community. I went to Mass and no one spoke to me and I returned home feeling discouraged.

I would stand on the footpath and watch the parishioners of the local Protestant Church sipping coffee under the trees in their church grounds, after their service. I looked at their notice boards and read about mothers’ groups and play groups and Bible study groups. I had yearned to belong to the Catholic family but maybe there was no place for me there. The Protestant church was beckoning me. It now looked so very attractive.

I complained to Father P.

“Sue, the Church is more than friendly faces and conversation. It shouldn’t matter whether anyone greets you at the door, whether anyone invites you for coffee, whether anyone is glad to see you.”

For a long time I just didn’t understand. I didn’t know enough. I didn’t love enough. I was looking for something. But was it the Right Thing? I hadn’t yet discovered the Catholic Church’s greatest treasure: the Eucharist. Oh yes, I knew of its existence but I failed to appreciate it. I never thought about Jesus waiting patiently in the tabernacles of the Catholic Church, waiting for me to come and adore and receive.

I now understand what Fr P meant. Would I swap the Eucharist for friendly smiles and coffee and a welcoming community?

But in a way, Father P was also wrong. I eventually found a dear Catholic friend who welcomed me with friendly smiles, and it was only through her encouragement that I was able to stay around long enough to learn and to grow in love and to discover and appreciate the greatest Miracle on Earth.

For a long time I browsed the bookshelves of this Catholic friend, who also answered my questions and helped where she could. Taking home a towering pile of borrowed books I read and I pondered and I prayed and I learnt. Gradually I began to understand what a great gift we have in the Church, the source of grace, Jesus Himself.

Yesterday,  Gemma-Rose received Jesus for the first time. She didn’t have to go searching like me. She has grown up in front of the tabernacle. She has always known about Jesus. He has always been part of her life. Gemma-Rose was welcomed into our parish church despite her baby noises. She threw toys and half chewed rusks over our fellow parishioners and I had to accept them back, embarrassed but pleased that no one minded the soggy missiles being launched over the back of our pew. Perhaps Gemma-Rose remembers our walks around the church as we prayed at each statue, and the baby kisses she gave to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every Sunday.

Gemma-Rose had her bad days when she’d cry loudly or whine and refuse to settle or sit still, and we would end up outside the church. But we could always listen to the sounds of Mass drifting through the doorway. And she soon recognised that important moment when I regained enough courage to join the congregation again in time for Communion. A moment I never missed.

Then there are the words, “I love you Jesus!” she has whispered countless times as Jesus has come down from heaven to our altar. And the kisses she has blown to Jesus as Father has elevated the Host. Gemma-Rose has watched as we’ve genuflected and received Jesus reverently.

Yes, Gemma-Rose has grown up knowing that Jesus is truly present on our altars and in our tabernacles. And she knows what a gift it is that Jesus offers Himself to the Father for our sins and then gives Himself to us to make us holy. She has absorbed naturally what it took me years to learn.

Yesterday on the Feast of the Epiphany, Gemma-Rose, looking so pure and innocent, approached the altar to receive Our Lord for the first time. It truly was a special moment.

Gemma-Rose is our youngest child. All our children have now received First Holy Communion. All except Thomas. But he has no need of Holy Communion. He is already there in Heaven praising and adoring God with all the saints in an unending liturgy. How closely we are united to Thomas as Mass is celebrated and our liturgy is joined with that heavenly song of unending praise.

Gemma-Rose once said to me, “Mum, I know where Thomas is.”

“Where?" I asked, expecting her to answer, “The cemetery.”

"He’s in the tabernacle.”

“In the tabernacle?” I was bemused.

“Yes, Thomas is with God and God is in the tabernacle so that is where Thomas is.”

It is amazing how young minds work. I mentioned this story to a friend and he said that theologically, in some mysterious way, Gemma-Rose was correct.

I like to think that yesterday when Gemma-Rose received Jesus for the first time, her big brother Thomas was so very close to her sharing in this very special moment.

In yesterday’s Epiphany homily, Father asked us to reflect on three things we can learn from the Wise Men: We must remember to search, to give and to change. Gemma-Rose’s First Holy Communion was only the beginning. Perhaps the Magi could give the gift of these lessons to Gemma-Rose as she travels on her way: She must continue her search to know God and to love Him. She must always want to receive Him, and in her turn she must give her life to God. She must want the Eucharist to change her so that she becomes perfectly holy and pleasing to God.

Gemma-Rose has many special memories of her First Holy Communion Day. She will remember how beautiful and pure she looked in her exquisite white dress with the six layered skirt and how a bejewelled ring sat upon her braided hair with a veil floating down her back. She will remember how all her family and her Godparents were with her and how proud and happy we were. She will not forget that special breakfast by the lake after Mass where we enjoyed the freshness of the day before the summer heat descended. And then there was the arrival of dear friends for a celebratory lunch and all the gifts and all the cards… But above all, there will always be the memory of the moment she received Jesus and the knowledge that He was entering her soul in a way she’d never experienced before.

May these happy memories remain with her always and may they draw her back to the Catholic Church and the great treasure of the Eucharist if ever she is tempted to stray.

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