War and the rumours of war! World War 11! So it was when my twin brother, Isidore, and I, made our First Communion. Our home was in the city of Birmingham, in the industrial heartland of England. As such, the Midlands was an obvious target for the German bombers.
Some people had air-raid shelters dug deeply into their gardens. Our family had a strong steel box placed against the side of our home. Neither of these shelters would have been protected us from a direct hit from a bomb. All the same, they would have been some kind of shield from flying and falling bricks and tiles, and possibly trees.
It so happened that on the eve of the two of us making our First Communion the sirens wailed an air-raid warning. Dad, who had been a lad at the time of the First World War and had recently joined the Territorial Army, was well composed and knew what to do. All of us, Dad, Mother and five boys, were bundled into the family steel box, furnished with several camp beds and a quantity of blankets, together with a few snacks. Each of us had his own gasmask. Baby Chris was placed in his gasmask incubator.
To this day this is what stands out in my memory after all these years: we were allowed to suck boiled sweets until midnight and not a moment beyond this. In those days the rule was that anyone intending to receive Jesus in Holy Communion had to have been fasting from midnight…no eating, no drinking of anything, absolutely anything. We could not even suck boiled sweets.
For one moment this made us two little horrors into two little holy heroes. ..for one solitary moment in our childhood. We had fasted from midnight in preparation for the most sacred occasion in our lives.
Sometime during the night the ‘all clear’ was sounded, but none of us heard it. Eventually, when Dad judged that the world was quiet and peaceful, we all returned to our home. Mother scrubbed us and dressed us in white satin trousers, shirts and bow-ties. She combed our golden curls into a semblance of orderliness.
Of the occasion in church I remember not a single thing---God forgive me! But how could I ever forget the splendid, never-to-be-repeated, breakfast of strawberries and ice-cream? Dad and Mother gave each of us a Crucifix as a memento of this most special of all days. Over the years these Crucifixes have acquired a huge significance for Isidore and for me.
I remember them hanging over our beds right up to the time – ten years later - when, as young men, we left home to enter the Novitiate of the Dominican Order. Immediately we had completed our studies for the priesthood Isidore and I were sent to work in the West Indies. Ill-health forced Isidore to return to England.
By the time I was due to return home Dad had died, my three brothers had married and settled in their own homes, and mother had moved into a comfortable small house where she would be on her own. My First Communion Crucifix was among the few articles she was able to carry from the big family house to her new home.This Crucifix hung over her bed right up to the time when she died at the age of ninety three years. And then my Crucifix was buried with her clasping it upon the breasts that had nourished me, the heart that had loved me for many and many a year…she, who more than anyone had reared me to become a practicing Christian, she who more than anyone had prepared me for my priesthood…she whose father and brother had been ministers of the Lord in the Methodist Church.
The Crucifix of my First Communion was the Crucifix of her burial…an eloquent symbol of the Holy Communion between mother and me, one of her children. Even now Isidore still has his First Communion Crucifix. It is nailed to the door of his room. I see it every time I return to England on vacation.
This very Crucifix is the symbol of the Holy Communion of the bonding of us twins: together on the same day we received for the first time the Body of Christ; together on the same day we were ordained to the Priesthood.
This Crucifix, hanging on his door, keeps us in mind of what we mean to each other…keeps us in mind of how much we owe our vocations to the mother who nurtured us. The Crucifix that heads this blog is the very one received by Isidore over seventy years ago. This is godwsway of showing both of us ourway of best serving Him in a way that is fulfilling to us both.Peter Clarke, OP