I fell in love for the first time when I was six years old. Coming from an "unchurched but Catholic-on-the-books" family, I did not learn of Jesus until I entered first grade. I'm forever grateful to my parents for sending me to Catholic school, for there I learned of this wonderful person who truly loved me. I could not help but love him in return, and in fact I was so taken with him that as soon as I could more or less spell, I scribbled his name all over my schoolbooks (I had a teenaged sister who wrote names of boyfriends on her books, so I knew how that was done).
Jesus lived in a golden box way up in the front of Church. I didn't understand how they fit him in there, but that didn't really matter to me. Sister said that's where he was and — even better than that! In spring, when school was almost out for the year, I'd be receiving my First Communion and somehow Jesus would come to my heart in a special way. Oh my. I didn't know how such a thing could be, but at times I was breathless thinking about it.
Sometimes I would sneak into the empty church during recess. I'd slip away from the other kids and run along the alley between my school and church, and I'd tug open the gigantic wooden door and tiptoe into quiet. It was perfect. Just me, all by myself; and way up front, there he was. Sometimes a lady or two might be in there, kneeling in a pew with a prayer book, a felt or straw hat covering her head. I would hide lest I be discovered. If there weren't any grownups, I sometimes got brave enough to go as far as to a back pew. I don't remember praying, exactly. I just looked at the gold box in the distance, and breathed in whiffs of beeswax candles and lingering incense, and listened to muted sounds of traffic from the streets around.
And what about this young love — was it lasting? I am happy to say that, through most of my grade school years, yes it was. Oh, I got distracted, certainly. Childhood games and pettiness, selfishness and materialism and fashion and crushes and pre-teen drama all took their toll. The fact that I was the only one in my family who went to Sunday Mass (my dad drove me to church and came back to get me) wasn't easy. I felt like the oddball in my family, so learned to hide any interest I had in God. And my interest in him was far from constant; sometimes it disappeared for months on end.
But always he was waiting. Always he was watching, even when I lost sight of him. He began calling early, and I thank him for his persistence.
I am glad to be able to say: Jesus Christ was my first love.
© 2013 Nancy Shuman
Nancy Shuman is a homemaker, writer, and author of the book The Cloistered Heart. Her articles have been published in various Catholic magazines, including Review for Religious, Reflections (a magazine of Catholic Guild of the Blind), New Covenant, Ultreya, and Salesian Light. She is certified in spiritual direction by the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence in affiliation with Franciscan University of Steubenville. Nancy currently blogs at The Cloistered Heart.