A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM

By Deborah Danielski

The time for first communion drew near and a dozen students fidgeted in their chairs, whispered and wrote notes to one another as the teacher explained the sacrament they would soon receive. One little girl sat quietly apart from the others. Amanda was “handicapped.” Physically, she looked just like all the other children. Mentally she was “a little slow.” Grasping abstract concepts was more difficult for Amanda than for most seven-year-olds, but she sat in rapt attention as the teacher attempted to explain the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life,” the teacher said. “Whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” The children had already heard the stories about the manna in the desert, the Feast of Passover and the paschal lamb. “Moses gave you the bread out of heaven,” the teacher read the words of Christ, “but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32-33)

As she read those words, the teacher wondered how much these seven-year-olds actually understood – especially Amanda. It seemed she spent far more time teaching the children how to behave and how to reverently approach and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist than she did in explaining its divine purpose. “Is seven just too young for first communion,” she wondered for what must have been the thousandth time. She especially wondered whether anything she’d said could possibly have gotten through to Amanda.

A few days later, her teaching seemed to have paid off as the class sat solemnly still in the front pews, all dressed up in their stiff new clothes. It seemed an eternity passed before the priest finally finished the Eucharistic Prayer and the last note of the Lamb of God died out. Amanda stood to take her place in the line as the children processed forward for their first communion, solemnly cupping their small hands in preparation – exactly as they’d been taught.

Amanda seemed transfixed as Fr. Mike raised the consecrated Host before her eyes. “The Body of Christ,” he said. And Amanda said “amen.” Up to that point, everything had gone exactly as planned. But then it happened. When Amanda took the Host from her hand and placed it in her mouth, a grin as broad as the horizon spread across her suddenly glowing face. She forgot everything she’d been taught about reverence and solemnity and in the most ecstatic gesture she knew, Amanda raised two tiny fists into the air, both thumbs pointing up toward the sky, and with every fiber of her being, she exclaimed -- “Yes!”

This time, it was For Fr. Mike who was transfixed. It was a moment he’ll never forget. “A little child will lead them,” Christ said and that day, Amanda surely did. Though her “handicap” may have made Amanda “intellectually inferior” to her peers, her innocence and faith inspired even her parish priest.

The event happened several years ago, but to this day a grin sometimes steals over Fr. Mike’s face as he reaches the part of the Eucharistic Prayer where he proclaims “Happy are we who are called to His supper.” It is most often at that moment, when he looks out upon parishioners far too “mature, intelligent and well-mannered” to exhibit any signs of joy, that Fr. Mike remembers little Amanda, and her childishly innocent “two thumbs up” for Christ.

(Published in New Covenant magazine, May 1999)

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