First, it reminds me of the trip to Rome I took last January with a mixed pilgrimage group of current and former parishioners. On one of our "walking tours" (they called them "death marches", but my term sounds friendlier), we stopped at the "Dodici", a.k.a. the "Church of the Holy Apostles". In the lower church lies the relics of Sts. Philip and James, in a marble sarcophagus behind a grate. Here's a photo one of the pilgrims took.
The second memory is also about a trip to Rome with my friend, Fr. Guy Selvester. At the time of the trip, he was Parochial Vicar of the parish of Sts. Philip & James in Phillipsburg (the parish currently next door to me now, though I wasn't here yet). While we were in Rome on that trip, he was able to obtain relics of Philip & James for his parish. I'm guessing they have them out for public veneration today.
Finally, that Church of the Holy Apostles is the place where, on top of the relics of Philip & James, Bishop Vincent Breen was ordained to the Priesthood, while a student at the North American College in Rome. Bp. Breen was the Bishop that ordained me a Priest, so I've always had a soft spot for that church. Also, this church is the titular of Giovanni Batista Cardinal Re, and I've been a "Re fan" since his days as Sostituto under Cardinal Sodano, at the time the Vatican Secretary of State. Today, Cardinal Re heads the Congregation for Bishops, largely responsible for the vetting of candidates for the episcopacy. So if there's anyone who needs some prayers, it's Cardinal Re.
That all being said, today is the first of our "First Holy Communions" in our little corner of God's vineyard. I'll be honest, I dread First Communions. They've become so much about everything else EXCEPT the fact that the children are receiving the Eucharist for the first time. The church is downright noisy and far from a place of prayer, as parents, relatives, etc. chit chat to each other, eagerly awaiting the "show to begin". The children have to process into the church with military precision. The flashing lights of the cameras from adults make the center aisle of the church feel more like the red carpet of Oscar night. They have to do all the readings, because somehow hearing the Word of God proclaimed with a cute lisp makes it more meaningful. They have to sing a cutesy, obligatory song which cannot help but provoke applause for a "job well done". I mean, did they sing a song at their baptisms? Do we make newly married couples sing something at the end of the wedding (I mean before the reception, when the liquor has kicked in)? Do new priests have to sing a song for the congregation after they've been ordained? Then there's the flowers to their parents (some of whom haven't brought them to church in 5 years). Now, tell me: in the midst of everything else we've piggybacked onto the liturgical celebration of First Holy Communion in most parishes, do you think these kids have ANY time to reflect and ponder the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ which they are taking into them for the very first time? I feel for Religious Ed Directors who would dare to begin to omit these things from the Mass. It would truly be touching the third rail, as parents would complain that they've somehow taken the "special-ness" out of the day.
Now, lest you think I'm going to go over to church with a machete, let me give you the "rest of the story". Yes, I dread First Communions. But once we get into the Mass, and I see the looks of wonder on the faces of these children, I leave feeling optimistic. I end up praying that their enthusiasm passes on to the grown-ups.