When he was asked what the happiest day of his life was, Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t say being crowned Emperor of France, or any of his military victories, or even his first marriage to Josephine, Viscountess of Beauharnai, not to mention his second marriage to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma.
No. Napoleon famously proclaimed, as only an emperor can, “The most important day of my life was my First Holy Communion.” That’s a curious response from a man of ambition and power who almost ruled the whole world, who battled with the Pope, and who ultimately left his faith. Nevertheless, he realized Communion is more than a wafer…it is Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
In his biography of Napoleon, Hilaire Belloc wrote, “His preparation for his First Communion he always remembered, and that day stood out for him all his life.”
Maybe all of us should prioritize what’s important in our lives. Our possessions? Our popularity? Our prestige? Or Jesus in the Eucharist? It took me a lifetime to realize the Blessed Sacrament isn’t just an important thing. It’s the most important thing.
At this time of year, young boys and girls—most of whom will never achieve the global prominence of Napoleon —receive their First Holy Communion, and that occasion should be nothing less than regal, because they’ll be receiving the King of the Universe in the Blessed Sacrament.
Decades ago, when my oldest daughter was preparing for her First Holy Communion, it was such a momentous occasion that my father was coming to church for the first time in 50 years.
I wanted to be as discreet as possible, but I can only describe it as mayhem, sort of like the first 75 shoppers rushing into Walmart on Black Friday to get a $100 flat screen TV. There was none of the reverence and piety that the good sisters drilled into us decades before, when we knelt at the altar railing and raised our heads to have Jesus put on our tongues.
I’m not suggesting that you need to kneel and receive on your tongue; however, at my daughter’s liturgy, when the priest called the kids to come forward, they rushed the altar like fans at a Taylor Swift concert. Then, they took Communion in their hands and ran back to their seats with it.
I still painfully recall one boy looking at the Blessed Sacrament between his fingers and chortling, “It looks like a potato chip!”
What troubled me most of all was my father’s reaction to this free-for-all. The guy hadn’t gone to church in decades, but even he realized something was wrong. He shook his head and muttered, “This isn’t right.”
That was 35 years ago, and I like to think a new day has dawned.
There will never be true reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and there will never be belief in the Real Presence if we don’t teach our kids these eternal truths. We have to teach it everywhere—in our homes, in our CCD classes, in our parishes, in our Catholic schools and especially in our Catholic colleges.
We have a long way to go when you consider that twothirds of Catholics don’t believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist, even though there’s ample scientific evidence to demonstrate that teaching of our faith.
Take time to examine the evidence. Explore the exhibit of Eucharistic miracles created by Bl. Carlo Acutis, titled, “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.” Or watch the captivating talk by Father Chris Alar, MIC, titled “Eucharistic Miracles: The Scientific Proof.” You’ll understand why they say the Eucharist is “the summit and source of our Christian life.”
Napoleon may have understood worldly power, but not the power of God.
“There are no limitations to Christ’s power, as God, which he exercises through his humanity in the Eucharist,” Servant of God John Hardon, SJ, once said. “The only limitation is our own weakness of faith or lack of confidence in his almighty love.”
At the end of his life, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena. All his temporal power was gone. He died, lonely and defeated, at 51. At the time of his greatest crisis, he should have turned to the Eucharist, as we all should.
Emperors, kings and presidents come and go, but Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is forever.