A young mom walks in and debates whether she should bring her three small children to the cry room. Hoping for the best, she chooses the church and finds a pew. They say hello to an older woman as they move into the pew past her. The older woman glances over with a disapproving look.
The older woman sat near the middle of the church because she was hoping for a sweet spot to hear. She chose a pew far enough away from the distraction of the music, but hopefully close enough to hear the homily. A young mom and her children slip past her into the pew; she looks up, frowning as she struggles to hear the greeting they mumble as they sit down.
The children surround their mom. The youngest on her lap and one on either side. The toddler tugs at her sleeve asking to be taken to the bathroom. Getting louder and louder as he insists he must go NOW! The mother tries to patiently to ignore the child’s pleas not wanting to have to ask the older woman to move or let them squish past her. She hands the child her cell phone, hoping to distract him, without any success. She stands up and sheepishly asks the woman if they can move past her again.
The older woman, recognizing the child’s urgency (her own children were that small once), moves her knees to let them pass. A small sigh and groan escape her lips due to the pain that the movement causes. She furrows her brow as she silently wonders why parents do not encourage their children to understand the Mass a little better, rather than distracting them by electronics. She considers, with charity, that it must be very difficult to raise children in the world today.
Wanting to disappear from embarrassment and feeling increasingly unwelcome by the older woman, the young mother hurries to the back of the church to take her little one to the restroom.
The older woman shifts in her seat, wondering what is taking the young woman so long to return and wishing she could say something that would encourage her. She remembers how hard managing small ones at Mass was. Those days seemed endless. How she wishes she could impart the wisdom of how quickly those years will go by. The knowledge that those you struggle with (even as you love them) may not always be with you at Mass or in life. The understanding that life, as you age, is filled with new challenges and loneliness that, at times, is unspeakable.
The young woman returns, and barely makes eye contact. Her embarrassment, hurt, and frustration show on her face. It is time for the Sign of Peace and she isn’t sure if she can reach out to the woman who seems annoyed with her.
The older woman extends her hand; crooked fingers reaching, she grasps the younger woman’s hand and whispers, “Peace be with you and your beautiful family, dear. Keep up the good work.”
The young woman’s heart softens as she wonders if she has misjudged the older woman and she smiles back with a tired and grateful greeting of peace.
Author’s note: With all the discussion about welcoming children at Mass, I wanted to consider the point of view of elderly parishioners. While the challenges of managing young children at Mass are fairly obvious, the struggles of older parishioners may not be as clear. It may be difficult to sit in Mass, perhaps straining to hear, sometimes in pain and often with a broken heart; it occurred to me that perhaps the manifestation of those crosses appears as intolerance to younger people.
I hope this back-and-forth demonstrates that there are always two sides to every interaction. In trying to consider each person’s point of view, we may be a more welcoming Church. God bless.
Copyright 2018 Mary Lou Rosien