On Oct 16th, at Enniskeane Church, fifty-one children were presented to prepare for their First Penance and First Holy Communion. This is the text of my me message to the boys and girls and to their parents at that Mass.

To the boys and girls from across our parish and our community – all 51 of you: Welcome. I know you have been looking forward to today because it brings you closer to two very special days in your lives. In a few months time you will be blessed by God with his gift of forgiveness in your first Celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And soon after that, you will come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion for the First time.

This is a special year for you, for your families, for your teachers and for our parish. We will all help you to prepare very well. And today, we ask God to help you along the way, too.

The most important way you can prepare is to pray. To ask God to be close to you every day and every night, every minute of you day. That’s why today at the end of Mass, we will give each of you a special candle with your name on it. This is not a candle for keeping; it’s not for just looking at; it’s not for putting up high in a glass case to show it off! It’s for praying with. It’s your prayer candle for the year. Light it at home with family at least once a day when you pray. And bring it with you to our special Masses.

Of course you can also pray as you go! When you leave home, bless yourself with holy water, for example. That’s a prayer, too.

First Holy Communion -- a very special day which may be a foundation day, too.
First Holy Communion — a very special day which may be a foundation day, too.

Parents, thank you for presenting your child for First Penance and to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. It’s a natural step that follows on from the day you presented your child to be enrolled in the Christian Community at Baptism.

During the year, this parish (and by that I mean all the parishioners, with leadership from the Parish Assembly and I) promise to help you in this special role that you have taken on — to be a Christian parent.

Why? Because we want to support you in helping your sons and daughters to come to know what Jesus is really about and the joy and hope that he wants to give your child.

Sunday Mass is the foundation stone of the Catholic Parish – but it’s also the foundation of a set of Christian values and it’s the foundation stone of something crucially important in life: to know that we all belong.

Our world keeps telling us about so many dangers in life now that just plain living is so hazardous if we listen to it all. There’s never been so much concern about anxiety, loneliness, bullying, depression, self-harm, addictions and obesity. In a short few years, we’ve gone from talking about the mental health of a small number of adults, to the mental health of all adults, to the mental health of young people and now there is concern abut the mental health of children, too.

At the same time — and I believe that this is part of the problem — even though we are created as people to belong, to be linked to others in society, we are instead being told that the most important values are to be competitive, to promote one’s own self-interest at any cost, to be individual in extreme ways, to be isolated with one’s own social media make-up and to always be in top form. Surely that’s unrealistic and loaded with pressure. (I heard someone on radio yesterday saying what’s good about being on a cruise ship: the high point — she could talk to the people at the next table in the restaurants on board, and she could never do this at home!)

Parish. This parish. An imperfect example of the community Jesus wants us to be. But we are working at it. Our parish is a place where people are accepted, each one as they are. And if you don’t feel on top of the world, that’s ok, too. And it’s ok to talk to us and tell us about it. That’s what Jesus wants, too. As a parish we are committed …

“to be a welcoming parish, caring, compassionate, vibrant and generous. Celebrating our faith and new beginnings together, in a prayerful, neighbourly and inclusive way.” — Mission Statement of the Parish Assembly.”

Today I invite parents and grandparents especially to help these boys and girls to know the importance of never feeling alone, to know the importance of feeling part of a community, to know the importance of being part of a parish that is inspired by Jesus.

And we can’t teach that with words — we have to live it and pass it on. What you do will help make it happen.