First Communion

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Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. …..– 2 Timothy 2:3

Bells barrage, candles quiver, a garrison of cherubs swarms for revelation’s reveille, and I stand at attention in single file hungry for my first chance to ingest the Host and let it go down in slugs of martial piety. I clutch a white lily to smite temptation. A mess jacket, called esmoquin, is my flak (vest) of faith alongside a large armband that hails the silver chalice as the mortar of Christ’s creed. We march in squads to censorious censers, squeezing marble missals whose prayers sputter like buckshot against carnal sin, and the priest commands us to be manly, battle-prone, tough as the saints who eat locusts, drink vinegar of bruised grapes. Soon Christ’s body will transform inside us, he says, from dough to bone, wheat to marrow, and we will walk the gauntlets of Our Lord. We kneel at the smoky altar with purpled knees, jellied eyes, jaws quick to clench like vices, though my own tongue feels the warm wafer as something feminine, soft, tickly—a feather of flour—not hard and coal-hot as I had feared in catechism when boys would prick thumbs with thorns like St. Rose and St. Martin of Porres. But on this day of sacrament I divine that the body is not sinful but the vessel of human goodness, where God’ love pulses in every limb, organ, cell— how pleasure is the blessed conduit of His grace.