It was the end of summer and we had just received a batch of three-day-old ducklings. These ducklings arrived safe and sound through the U.S. Postal Service and we were all very excited. It was a busy week for me, between nurturing these little birds and trying to prepare for my upcoming parish religious education class, but as I worked with the ducklings, I noticed many similarities between getting this new brood started and preparing children for the reception of the Sacraments.
I am always nervous about teaching other people’s children, worrying they will not understand what I am trying to convey and will fail in inspiring them to love the Sacraments. But not this week! And not this class! Because this year, with the help of our new little birds, I had a fail-proof plan. My ducklings would help me instill one of those memorable moments that will stay with those precious little souls forever!
I confidently went into my First Communion class armed with new insights and a concrete example of the importance of the Eucharist and what my role would be during the upcoming year. Ducklings – the perfect metaphor for the Church and her gifts of grace – would help usher my class into Heaven! I had pictures, I had a brand-new box of multicolored chalk, and I had a clean chalkboard. I was ready!
We jumped right in on that bright Sunday morning. I carefully crafted the story of the ducklings’ three-day journey to our house to get the children to ask questions. Were they cold? How could they breathe in the box? And, most importantly, were they hungry?
And so I explained: “Within each egg, there is a yolk which contains all the nutrients the duckling needs to keep it alive as it develops within the egg. Once the duckling hatches, he is still full of the nourishment that came from the yolk and does not really need food for about three days. But,” I told them, “once they reach our homestead they must be given water and a little bit of food to get their digestive systems working. We gently pick each one up and dip and swish its little nose into the water so it learns where to get water. Then we rub and swish its little nose into the food dish so they know where to be fed.”
This, of course, was demonstrated with exaggerated movements on my part to really get the image in their minds.
When the giggles subsided, I continued. “They usually learn after one dipping, and know from that point on where to go for nourishment. But they still need a lot of attention for the next few weeks. They still need a warm, clean, safe place to grow, away from predators and without the risk of getting lost. They need a home.”
The children seemed to understand that even if some of these steps sounded silly, they are vital to the birds’ health and survival.
“Your souls,” I explained, “are like the ducklings and the Church is your shelter. Sometime around the age of seven, you hatch from your protective egg and start to become more aware of the world and of God and the difference between right and wrong. The Church calls this the age of reason. Up until this time, you have been nourished by your baptism – the yolk in your egg. It gave you all the graces you needed for that stage in your life. This yolk of baptism continues to nourish you as you safely learn new ways of keeping your soul strong, safe and healthy. But now your soul needs additional help and Sacraments to keep it safe from evil, from getting lost and from starving.
“You are a part of God’s family and He has given you His Church as a safe place to grow. Our Lord promised that even Hell cannot destroy this home because He knows how much protection we need. A home is where you go to be safe, loved, fed and to pray. It is where you get to know more about your other family members, the Saints, and are taught ways to live in ways that are pleasing to God. The Catholic Church is all of these things for us and we should remember that we can always trust that it will take good care of us.
“Now within this home is a feast for your soul. The Eucharist. The actual Body and Blood of Christ Himself! It is the Eucharist that gives your soul the grace it needs to help you grow in virtue as you journey towards Heaven.
“Just as it was my job to teach these baby ducks how to eat and drink so that they could grow up and be strong ducks, it is also my job to spend this year teaching you the importance of the Eucharist and how to receive the Sacraments worthily to help you grow up to be strong Catholics!”
A few of the children actually looked excited, and I indulged myself in a moment of teacher’s pride, happy to see that they seemed to grasp what they will be working toward. I felt pretty confident about the upcoming year as I straightened up the room after class that day, until I overheard one child explain excitedly to her mother, “Mom! She’s gonna teach us how to eat the Eucharist by rubbing our noses in it!”
Thankfully, by the end of the year, the children finally understood what I was trying to say on that first day. And as I watched each soul receive the True Presence for the first time, I could almost see their wings spread, attempting their first flight towards Heaven.
Copyright 2014, Cassandra Poppe