Difficult Children Sanctify Us


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.

By Crimfants (http://flickr.com/photos/crimfants/327861820/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Crimfants (http://flickr.com/photos/crimfants/327861820/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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


About Author

Sherry Boas is author of the Lily Series, which has grown into a beloved collection of novels whose characters’ lives are unpredictably transformed by a woman with Down syndrome. The former newspaper reporter and special needs adoptive mother of four is also author of A Mother's Bouquet: Rosary Meditations for Moms, Billowtail, Victoria's Sparrows, Little Maximus Myers, Archangela's Horse, and Wing Tip. She runs Caritas Press from her home office in stolen moments between over-cooking the pasta and forgetting to dust the chandelier. Find her work at CaritasPress.org.


  1. My son turned 15 today. This young man, as a three year old, decided the communion line during a quiet early morning weekday mass would be the perfect place to belt out, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I think he wanted to be anywhere but Church! And he’s given us a run for our money ever since. One of the best things about kids like that is you STOP JUDGING other people. And you get a good dose of HUMILITY. Sigh.

    • Haha, Claire, I know some people consider baseball a religion, but I don’t think Take Me Out to the Ballgame qualifies as liturgical music. 😉 Thanks for sharing your perspective, which is always so enlightening and real.

  2. Cassie Guenther on

    Loved every single word. Spoke to my heart in so many ways. Thank you for shedding light and perspective on the beauty and sanctification there is in attending mass with children; especially the “subset” children 😉

  3. The subset! Loved that. Thanks for such an encouraging post–them being my path to sanctification hit a cord tonight…and I suppose I might be sanctifying them, too!! Thanks for this!

  4. Love this post! There has been so many times I’ve wanted to crawl under the pew. My daughter was 3 and I was in daily mass at the cathedral I had just received communion and you could of heard a pin drop. I was praying I stopped and whispered to her to “sit on her bottom and be quite or it was timeout” she was mad so she announced “I hate Jesus” my eyes went so big and my mouth fell open I can’t remember a time I was more humiliated nor a time she ever said she hated anyone. Today she’s 5 and wants to marry Jesus, thank God.

    • Oh my goodness, I know Jean, this parenthood gig is sooooo humbling. Thanks for sharing that horrifying 😉 story and the happy outcome as well. It helps that we’re all in the same boat, doesn’t it? And that Jesus is on the boat with us, even though it seems that sometimes He sleeps below deck, though how He can sleep through all the noise my children make, I’ll never know. By the way, if you would have climbed under the pew that day, you would have found my little boy lying under there, biting his nails or picking his nose. :p

  5. Asela Calvert on

    Very recently, our now nine year old was nostalgically reminiscing the time she was shouting her request, ad nauseum, during the consecration, no less, “I WANT FR. MCGUIRE!” Some were in stitches, some were appalled, I was so humiliated, my limbs were numb. Do you know that priest was NOT at all disturbed by this? She ticked his heart, he thought she was adorable! These occurrences became so commonplace, nine years later, I no longer grow numb. I’ve found that this “subset” of children are so wise and insightful…yes, the nose pickers whose arms become lodged in the songbook rack and announce to the entire congregation when the Church is “pin drop” quiet after Holy Communion that, “I just passed gas!” After all, “…they’ve been observing their environment, THEIR CHURCH!” Thank you, God, for priests like Fr. Lorig and Fr. McGuire.

  6. Well I have a 15 year old son that should qualify me for sainthood!! So loved this article because of this perspective! And the requirement to be faithful not necessarily successful. This has really eased my pain tonight. I love my son with all my heart but he has always been difficult. Now he is involved with a non Christian girlfriend (real issues here), decided he only has to get average grades, and has a general overall unpleasant attitude towards his father and me. I find myself crying constantly. I pray every day for him and say my rosary but I am in despair. We go to Mass every week without fail and he just made his Confirmation. But nothing seems to get through to him. We have both talked to him about what is acceptable in dating and monitor and set limits but her family is not in agreement. All of this has caused his grades to slip and given him an attitude that he doesn’t care and doesn’t have to listen to us for much longer. I worry about him constantly and know he could be doing so much more with his life. I’m not even sure once on his own he will even go to Mass. If anyone has any good ideas I’m all ears! Thanks so much

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