First Communion, a short story by Mark Scheel at

First Communion

First Communion

written by: Mark Scheel


Religion for me was always kind of an iffy proposition, if you know what I mean. You’d like to think there was some kind of “hereafter,” and some big “bus driver” in the sky, but there’s so dang many churches opinionating about this or that doctrine, and what’s true and what’s not, that a fella can get to feeling flummoxed and just give up. Leastwise, that’s how it all struck me. And which is why I never went through any confirmation.

Now, my dearly beloved little bride, Juanita, is a Filipino Catholic, and they don’t come any more devout than that. We got a crucifix hung on the wall in the bedroom and a painting of the Blessed Mother displayed above the living room settee. There’s a little statuette of Saint Francis outside by the front steps, and Juanita always carries a rosary in her purse. So, you get my drift.

Anyways, I always attend Mass with her. I figure that’s sensible for keeping harmony in the home. But, of course, I don’t receive Communion. The Catholic Church is very fussy about that if you’re not among the confirmed. I always let everybody else out of the pew to get themselves in line and then I sits back down and waits for Juanita to circle around once she’s received the Host and come back to where we’re sitting to kneel down. I been doing it that way for a good many years now. That’s the drill and how it is, so to speak.

Last Sunday we scooted around and headed over to Mass same as always. It was a cloudy summer morning, but warm and pleasant. We got our usual pew where over to the left there’s a niche in the wall with a glass-encased statuette of baby Jesus wearing a crown and a big stained glass window above. Not a big crowd, mostly the same faces. Except for this one young mother and her little tyke, who I’d never seen before, took a place right in front of us. Cute little rug rat with big blue eyes and blond curls and a coloring book, crayons and a box of animal crackers to keep him occupied during the worship proceedings. Well, right away he stands up in the pew and turns facing me and Juanita and sizes us both up. Then gives us one gigantic smile and pats his hands together, sos I figured right off we’d settled on pretty fair terms.

When it came to the homily, it kind of seemed ironic in a way that the priest admonished the congregation on Christ preaching to become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You know, what with that little cherub in front coloring away in his book. Just kind of ironic. And Father John alluded to something about the Feast Day of Saint Maximilian somebody or other what gave up his life to save a family with young children. Or some such. I’ll give him credit. Father John is a conscientious padre who puts a good bit of effort into composing his sermons. Then after that, of course, we got into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Now, there was an elderly lady, sporting a decorative straw hat and blue silk dress, sitting in the pew with the young mother and her little boy. When it came time to form up the Communion line, the lady remained seated and the mother whispered something to her, what I took to be probably “please-look-after-my-crumb-snatcher-till-I-gets-back,” and the lady nods and off goes the mother. And Juanita then falls in behind while I remains just setting there submerged in organ music and mumbling along to the hymn “Taste and See.”

Well, I’m trying to balance my singing with keeping track of where Juanita is sos I can lower the kneeler at the proper time when I notices that little boy quits his coloring and stands up on the seat again looking back at me. He has a real serious expression, almost a frown, like he’s puzzling over something. Then all of a sudden, he bends down to his box of animal crackers and picks one out and, holding it between his thumb and finger real delicate-like, he straightens up again. And that was when the most amazing thing I ever did see happened all at once.

The sun must have busted out from behind the clouds because a brilliant ray of light come streaming down through that stained glass window and across the baby Jesus and onto that little boy. It lit up his blond curls with an almost angelic hue, darn near like an aura! I swear. And his face took on the freshest beauty like a new garden rose. And then, of all things, he stands on tiptoe and reaches his little arm out to me offering his animal cracker. Well, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t touch me somewhere down deep. I took the cracker and nodded and smiled at him and set it onto my tongue. And what do you know, it had the smoothest and sweetest taste of any cracker I ever crunched my teeth into. That’s a fact! And then the little guy smiled again and laughed with a blessed laugh of pure childhood joy. That’s when the light abruptly dimmed, and he turned around and plopped down and picked up his crayons again. The next thing I knew Juanita was nudging me to lower the kneeler, which I did. And for once I knelt down beside her.

Now, I’ve given that episode a good deal of thought since. I can’t help thinking there’s a serious lesson in there if you look for it. Maybe I was always a tad too concerned about dogma and what did and didn’t add up. But I’m thinking now there’s a whole other aspect to this religion thing. Just maybe I been missing, as they say, seein’ the forest for the trees. They’re holding those Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes once again for anybody what wants to learn more about the Church and so on. I’m considering maybe I’ll join in. I can’t see there’d be any downside. And it sure as heck would please Juanita. You can bet on that.

Latest posts by Mark Scheel (see all)