I remember the temporal preparation: choosing the dress and veil I was to wear, studying and taking tests in Religion class, learning the ins and outs of the pews to and from the communion rail – all very important stuff! However, to this day — nearly 45 years later — I most fondly remember the spiritual preparation, as I received Christ for the first time as the Greatest Christmas Gift EVER … on Christmas Eve – December 24, 1966 at Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
I specifically remember being taught so lovingly by my first grade teacher, Sister John Immaculate, IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary – or Macs, as the order was fondly referred to by the boys in my school). Sister so beautifully impressed upon me that I was receiving Jesus into my heart for the first time at the very best time of the year: when we celebrate His birthday, and that I should be so happy, that no other Christmas gift I may receive from Santa Claus could compare! Being the innocent child I was, I was soooo taken by those words and carried them with me throughout that Christmas season. Instead of thumbing through the Sears Wish Book, I was concentrating on receiving Jesus into my heart. Instead of planning the kind of cookies to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve, I was planning on how I was going to react when I received Jesus into my heart for the first time. When my mother asked me a few days before Christmas Eve/my First Communion what I wanted Santa to bring me, I burst out in tears, “Oh Mommy, I only want Jesus for Christmas!” I remember my poor mother trying to console me by telling me that Jesus would be happy that I received toys for Christmas, too — but I wouldn't hear of it! I only wanted Jesus, and that was that. My little 7 yr. old heart and mind were made up. I wanted Jesus in my heart for Christmas.
Well … not only did I receive Jesus into my heart that cold but beautiful Christmas Eve, 1966 (after marveling at the butterflies in my stomach and how my tongue went numb in excitement and wonder at taking my first Holy Communion!), I awoke on Christmas morning to find a new doll house and those plastic “high-heels” with elastic straps that also made my heart flutter with joy, but not anywhere near the level of joy I felt the day before, when I received the Greatest Christmas Gift of all time.
Oh … how I wish I could get back the child-like purity of heart and love of our Lord, Jesus that I had back in 1966. Maybe I'll ask Santa to bring it back to me for Christmas this year. 😉
Dear Sister John Immaculate, if you ever read this, I love you and thank you for sharing your love of God with me and all my classmates at Queen of Heaven. xoxo
Here's a picture of me and my classmate, Christine (who also made her First Holy Communion on 12/24/66), with Sister John Immaculate and Sister Theresa Ann after a 40 Hours Procession in March 1967 – barely 3 months after receiving our Greatest Gift.