Mark was preparing for his First Reconciliation and First Communion. These are important days for any child and a lot of work goes in to being ready to receive these sacraments. For Mark, there was even more work because Mark is autistic.
His parents and his teacher had put a lot of thought into how Mark needed to prepare. For First Reconciliation, the teacher had written out a short paragraph for Mark to read to the priest – it is easier than just speaking off the cuff. When the night arrived Mark’s parents were anxious, watching every move, hoping that Mark would get through it all without too much stress. All went well. Mark went up and sat with Fr James.
He read his piece. His parents breathed a sigh of relief. Then Fr James raised his hand to give Mark absolution. Mark looked, saw the raised hand – and gave Fr James a resounding high-5! Mark’s parents may have been ready to slide off the bench at this stage, but Fr James took it all in his stride and moved seamlessly on to complete the Sacrament of Reconciliation with Mark.
When Mark’s dad told me about this the following Sunday at Mass, I thought it was wonderful! Reconciliation is about making things better, about being ok with God and with each other. The high-5 is a great symbol of that! When two people high-5 each other it is a sign that things are good between them, that there is joy in the relationship.
Mark may not have had a profound understanding of the theology of reconciliation but he certainly knew that it is all about strong, happy, solid relationships. Imagine if we all knew each other well enough in our parishes to turn around at the sign of peace and high-5 each other instead of a rather formal handshake! Mark spotted the joy in our sacramental life. I think that is wonderful.
Joy is so vital in our lives. It balances out the stresses and challenges which we inevitably face. An elderly aunt of mine has been in a nursing home for some months now. Her family are blessed in that any time any of us visit her she tells us how happy she is, how good the staff are, how tasty the food.
Another great blessing in the nursing home is Bridie, a lady of similar age to my aunt. Bridie is, quite simply, what we describe up here in Donegal as, ‘great craic’. She says herself that she is “a giggler not a whiner” and that is certainly true. Bridie does a lot of laughing. She often talks in rhyme and has a razor-sharp wit. The same can be said of my aunt. The banter and craic between these two women is great. Bridie’s family feel that my aunt’s presence in the nursing home has brought a new lease of life. Growing old is not easy. Losing independence is tough. Somehow these two women manage to get the best out of life and in doing so they brighten the lives of others.
There are tough days too. I am very aware of coming up to my Dad’s first anniversary, aware of where we were this time last year. Even the flowers in the garden remind me that we have come back again to this point.
Anniversaries are difficult. I often think of them as ‘thin places’ where our loved ones are even closer than usual to us – but that very presence and sense of them reminds us of their absence and the loneliness that brings.
I pray that these summer months will bring you and your family joy. My advice? Take time, notice the beauty that surrounds you. Spend time with the people who bring banter, craic and love into your life. Acknowledge the struggles, the sadness, the challenges but don’t let them overwhelm you. Find time every day to stop and reflect on what has brought you joy – and thank God! High-5!