I grew up as a Roman Catholic in the town of Malverne, Long Island, New York. I attended the public elementary school there, so when I was seven years old I had to also attend religious instructions one day a week at my church in order to meet the requirements for gaining the Holy Sacrament of Communion.
The lessons were taught from a book called a catechism in which doctrinal questions of my particular faith were asked and answered in printed form. My challenge was to learn these answers by rote, that is, commit them to my memory every week. A nun running the class would pick various children to stand up from their seats and answer particular questions from the catechism.
I dreaded being picked to stand up and answer the nun’s questions in class and managed to go through most of the season unscathed. Then on one fateful day the monsignor (head priest) of the parish sat in and randomly pointed to individual children to answer questions from the catechism. That day I was wearing a fancy string cowboy tie, which must have made me stand out visibly to the monsignor. I was the first or second child to be picked to answer his doctrinal questions.
I remember getting out of my pew and walking over to where the aging and intimidating, no-nonsense Irish monsignor was sitting. When he asked me a question, I was unable to reply. He asked me another question—still no answer. While I had indeed glanced over the catechism every week, due to laziness and inertia, I hadn’t made the necessary effort to forge the answers into my memory banks. Having failed this verbal test, I was told that I would not be able to take my first communion with the others in my class.
I had hoped that I could slip through the system that year. And, even after getting busted, I was mostly angry for wearing that fancy cowboy tie and drawing attention to myself.
I went home and had to tell my dad that I would not be receiving Holy Communion with the rest of my classmates. Well, one’s First Holy Communion is a big deal in the Catholic Church and to a Catholic family. My parents were looking forward to my wearing a cute little white suit, tie and jacket. Family members were already invited to attend, enjoy a large celebrative Sunday meal and take a bunch of pictures. Lots of money, pride and emotion were invested toward this sacred event.
My father was very visibly concerned about my failure to meet the church’s requirements. However, no sooner did I give my dad the bad news than I experienced a sudden clarity of mind. In my defense, I blurted out, “but I know all the answers!”
I was as surprised by this unexpected response as much as my dad was. For some reason that I didn’t understand, I suddenly realized that all the answers in my catechism were now readily accessible to my memory! (I have read from the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg that on the deepest levels of human consciousness we actually retain all our experiences in our memory.) Some angelic or divine miracle seemed to have joggled and activated this information from deep within my mind.
My father said that if I really knew all the answers he would drive me immediately back to the church and remedy the situation. When my father and I arrived, the head nun was called in and agreed to ask me the questions necessary to be reinstated. I answered every question perfectly. I was then allowed to receive my First Holy Communion with the rest of my classmates. But, the whole scenario seemed to have an unreal quality about it.
To this day I see this event as a real miracle.