There’s been a lot of discussion lately, in my little corner of the world, about the behavior of children at Mass. Apparently, priests sometimes receive complaints about disruptive children from parishioners who are done raising their children or never had children to raise or haven’t yet started raising children or have children who always manage to sit quietly during readings and homilies and offertories, with their hands resting in their laps like leaves upon a placid lake. The implication is that these are the children of parents who know how to parent.
And then there are the rest of us.The rest of us have children who wiggle around, pick their noses, pass gas, scream, shriek, cry, giggle, mutate into wet noodles when you try to hold them, belt out irrelevant songs and blurt out random comments, whether they are at Disneyland, a car wash, Wal-mart, a movie theater, a water park, your neighbor’s baby shower or at the most sacred event on the planet. You would think a kid could pull it together, for just a minute or two, during Mass, at the very least, at the moments following Communion when we should be deep in prayer and lost in awe at the thought of Who has come to dwell within us. But, no, the kid is pondering aloud great mysteries of the universe and pressing issues of our times, such as “What happens when you sneeze under water?” or “Why does that man in the choir sound like Kermit the Frog?” or “Can we get a Frosty at Wendy’s?” And if you don’t answer, the question will be repeated. And repeated. And repeated again. Until you find yourself discussing, in hushed whispers and in the most succinct terms available to you, the sudden involuntary expulsion of air in aquatic environments, the vocal quality in puppet amphibians and the exceedingly slim chance of the procurement of frozen treats by a child who failed so miserably to behave at Mass.
Yes, those are the kind of children the rest of us have.
Then there is that subset of children within those children that the rest of us have. I have one of those kids from the subset – the kid who decides to wedge his elbow into the songbook rack on the back of the pew, just minutes before Mass begins. I feel myself slipping into an uncontrollable panic as I try, in vain, to help him free his arm. I have visions of the priest, deacon and altar server frozen in the sanctuary, mouths agape, my child screaming at the top of his lungs as the firefighters rush in and rev up the circular saw to slice the pew in half. Thankfully, that part didn’t have to happen, but it might have been next after the red-faced whimpering and grunting and desperate struggling to get free if there hadn’t been a little bit of heavenly intervention and the boy figured out how to turn his arm just so and free himself. All the while I’m thinking somewhere in my subconscious, OK. We’re Catholic. We’re Catholic. We’re Catholic. There’s got to be a patron saint for getting your kid’s arm dislodged from a pew.
So now, seventy-two hours removed from that whole event, it dawns on me. This is my route to sainthood.
The saints all had one thing in common: they were willing to abandon everything to God. They knew full well they were not in control and that only God could be. People work a lifetime on this kind of humility. Parents of children who can sit still will have to find some other way to work on it, and God will surely provide it. Their sanctification will not come through their children. But the rest of us parents have a fast pass to holiness, if we choose to take it.
We are constantly humbled. The whole world is watching us parent, and it’s not working. Whatever we try, fails. People form their opinions, pass their judgments, and at times, we must take a long, hard look at ourselves and consider that maybe they are right. Maybe we don’t know what we are doing. Maybe we don’t always try hard enough. Maybe we get tired and discouraged and burned out. Maybe we need more God and less self.
Blessed Mother Teresa said God does not require us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful. We work. We try our hardest. We pray. And then it’s up to Him. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes life fails us. And all the while, people are watching. They won’t be able to determine, from the one hour they see our children at Mass, what kind of parents we are. They think they can tell, but they can’t. Only God can. And He’s the only one who matters anyway.
Copyright 2015 Sherry Boas.
Photo by Crimfants (http://flickr.com/photos/crimfants/327861820/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons