May 5-6, 2012
Fr. George Smiga
I know that those of you who are making your first Communion have heard today’s gospel before. You understand that when Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches, he is telling us that we are connected to him and his very life is in us. Just as a branch must be connected to the vine, we must be connected to Jesus. This is good news, because it means that Jesus is within us and with us in every need we have.
I remember the very first time that I recognized that I really needed Jesus. It happened when I was as old as those of you making your first Communion today. In fact I had just made my first Communion and summer vacation had begun. At the beginning of that summer my mother said to me, “George, this summer I want you to learn to swim.” Now our family always went to the pool in the summer. In fact we went to Grovewood pool right here in Cleveland. But you did not need to swim to enjoy Grovewood pool. They built the pool so that at one end it was only three feet deep. Then as you went to the other end it got deeper and deeper until it was nine feet deep. Well, even if you could not swim, you could stay at the three foot end, stand on the bottom, and still have a lot of fun splashing people around you. But that was not good enough for my mother. She said “George you can’t spend your whole life standing in three feet water. You need to learn how to swim.” I really did not want to learn how to swim. It meant I had to take swimming lessons which were held at o’clock in the morning when the water in the pool was still very cold. So who would want to get up early in the morning and jump into an ice cold pool? I didn’t. I told my mother that. But she had already made up her mind. And that was that.
But swimming lessons were not as bad as I had feared. That was because of the lifeguard who was my swimming teacher. Her name was Dana. She was in high school. She was very pretty. She wore a tight red bathing suit. I liked Dana a lot. And she was a very good teacher. So within the very first week I had already learned how to do the “jellyfish float.” Now I don’t know if you know the “jellyfish float,” but you put your face in the water, pull your knees up under you, and you float like a bubble on the top of the water.
Now this was progress, but the “jellyfish float” is not that great a float. You just stay in one place. So very soon, Dana said, “George, you have to learn the American crawl.” You all know this stoke. You put your face in the water and move your arms up and out of the water pulling your body forward. You can move from place to place. Dana showed me all the moves and told me, “Practice in the afternoon when you come to the pool.” So I practiced and practiced, and pretty soon I could go a couple of feet swimming. I was very proud of myself. I wanted to show Dana how much progress I made. I was eager for our next day at swimming lessons.
But when I arrived at the pool, I knew it would not be a good day. That day Dana’s boyfriend Mike came to swimming lessons. I didn’t like Mike. Whenever he was there, Dana spent all her time looking at and talking with Mike. I wanted to show her my American crawl, but I couldn’t even get her attention, because she and Mike were talking about what they were going to do that weekend. Then I had an idea. I thought I could swim across the three foot section of the pool to the other side. Then, when Dana looked up and saw I wasn’t there, I could say “Here I am Dana. I swam here!” That would really impress her. So, I did it. I put my face in the water and I started swimming.
You know, I did not have much experience in swimming. But I was confident because the other side of the pool was not that far away. So I swam. I kept swimming. But somehow I was not reaching the other side of the pool. I kept feeling for it but it wasn’t there. Finally, I had no energy left. I had to stand up and take a breather. So I stood up and reached for the bottom of the pool. It wasn’t there. What had happened was that as I was swimming across the pool I turned and swam right into the nine foot section!
So there I was, no energy left, no bottom to stand on. Down I went. All the way down till I reached the bottom of the pool. But I needed air. So I pushed up from the bottom of the pool and broke through the water to take a breath. But because I was exhausted, down I went again. This was not good. Because unless somebody saw me over in the nine foot section, eventually I’d be on the bottom for good. So as I came up the second time, I looked for Dana. There she was with Mike at the side of the pool talking and talking and talking. Down I went again.
This is when I decided I would pray. Now I do not remember the prayer exactly, but it went something like this: “Dear Jesus, I know you are always with me and that you come to me in first Communion. When I made my first Communion, I promised to receive you every weekend. If you want me to receive you next weekend you better do something.” When I came again and I looked over, Dana wasn’t there. Mike was there waving his hands and shouting. Suddenly I felt someone grab me and pull me to the side and out of the pool. It was Dana! She said, “George how did you get into the nine foot section?” I said, “I swam here!” “Well, good for the swimming” she said, “but we have to work on your directions.”
That was the first time that I really knew that I needed Jesus. I prayed and I believed he was with me. It was an important experience, because many other times in my life, I again had to trust that he would not forget me. What I want to say to all of you making your first Communions today, is as you come to the altar you need to know that Jesus gives you his entire life and promises to be with you always. No matter what you need to face, you can count on him.
This is true for all of us here today, whether we are making our first Communion or our thousandth Communion. Wherever we find ourselves, no matter what is going on in our lives for good or for bad, Christ is with us. We can count on his presence. As we receive Communion, he promises to be faithful. If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, it means we share his very life. His life is with us when we are happy and when we are sad, when we are sleeping and when we are awake, when we are walking and—yes—when we are swimming.