St. Martin de Porres students prepare for first Communion
At St. Martin de Porres in Syracuse — a lake community parish whose attendance swells significantly in the summer, but in winter is modest — the number of students preparing for first holy Communion is frequently small. Nonetheless, they’re excited.
The pastor of St. Martin is Father Andrew Nazareth, and the director of religious education is Cathy McGonigal. McGonigal said there are a total of 29 students in the religious education program. The second grade catechist, Jessica Martin, is grooming her students to receive the Eucharist for the first time.
This is Martin’s third year as a religious education instructor, and she was an assistant for a year prior to that. This is her first year teaching the students preparing to receive the sacrament of first holy Communion. She said she enjoys interacting with the kids and loves to “see the growth the kids achieve as they go through the year.” Her students this year are Landon Gerber and Malia Schrader.
Malia’s mom is planning to enter the church at the Easter Vigil. Because of a family situation, Malia is only at St. Martin every other week.
Martin said the children have been learning about the parts of the Mass, kindness, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Lenten sacrifice and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Landon said he was looking forward to receiving Jesus, but when asked if he was excited he replied, “Kinda yes and kinda not. I want to receive Jesus, but I get stage fright and don’t want to sweat a lot in front of the whole church community.”
At first Landon didn’t think receiving first Communion would make him feel differently. But as they talked more about his favorite story of Jesus on the cross, and how Jesus died to save all of humankind, things changed.
When asked why Jesus left us the sacrament of Eucharist, Landon replied, “So He could be in us. So we would choose to do only right and so He can love us.”
“Now since I did that whole talk, now I think I will feel differently because Jesus is in me. I think I will be filled with joy!” the young man added.
Landon also spoke of his first reconciliation, saying he was nervous and excited beforehand and confused and excited afterwards. He described how feeling absolved of his sins by saying, “I was confused but excited because it was like, whoa — what just happened in there?”
Malia said one of the best things she’s learned so far is how the Eucharist is Jesus’ body and blood. Both children said they believe that transformation is possible because, as Landon said, “Jesus can do anything — anything is possible!”
As the students began their lesson a couple of weeks ago, they read the parable of the rich young man. Martin said the lesson of the parable is that we should love nothing more than God. Asked if they heard the story before. Landon said he knew it was from the Gospel of Matthew. In response to his teacher’s question asking why the young man was sad, he said, “He didn’t want to give up his stuff, but he wanted to be with God.”
“Is it okay to love your things as long as you love God more?” Landon wanted to know.
Martin said that most people like their things, but she reiterated that nothing should be more important to us than God.
Martin said her students “definitely keep me on my toes, but they’re fun to teach and it’s fun to see their growth. I’m excited to see them receive the sacrament.”
The teacher and students talked about the experience of being such a small class. Landon said his Sunday school classes have usually been one or two people, which he thought was nice, although he still wishes there were more kids. Martin agreed, saying that in a way, it’s easier to have a larger class because there’s more interaction and the students can bounce ideas off each other. She said the advantages, however, are that her students get more individual attention and they get through lessons quicker.
Malia read the definition of sacrifice: giving up something out of love and the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus died for our sins. Landon wanted to clarify that “nothing could top that, right? Not even if someone else did the cross thing?”
The students then discussed types of things that people sacrifice during Lent — giving up a favorite food or donating favorite toys. The Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist also came up, and Martin explained it was then that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ and taught the apostles it was what He wanted them to do for us.
Landon remarked, “If Jesus hadn’t done the Last Supper and no one knew it, we wouldn’t have first Communion.”
First Communion at St. Martin de Porres is scheduled for May 7 at the 11 am Mass.
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