Sunday, May 20, 2012

Suffer the little children...

Today, when we walked into Mass, it was as quiet as a tomb.

How prescient. 

Two parents with five children trooped into church today. Before the Gospel, two parents with five children trooped back out.


Because I will not stay where my children are not welcome. 

But let me back up and give you the full story.

A few months ago, our parish (because of a lack of priests) cut out one Sunday Mass and shifted the remaining Mass times. Our "normal" Mass time was pushed half an hour earlier. Because Hubby works nights (and by necessity sleeps late), it was tough for us to make the new, earlier Mass time. So we started going to Mass at a different parish that had a later Mass time. The new parish has no attached school (read: fewer children), but does have a young priest who gives excellent homilies. I loved going to Mass at the new parish because my sons got to see a young man, vibrant in faith, who has answered God's call to the priesthood. As an added bonus, the building was constructed in the mid-1800's, and is absolutely breathtaking. (Our parish church was built less than 10 years ago. Eyesore. Sad, but true.) There is beautiful, beautiful music - great cantor, knock-your-socks-off choir, pipe organ. Smells and bells all the way. Hubby & I had considered officially changing parishes.

I don't see that happening now.

Today, we arrived for Mass our usual 15 minutes early. We came in, crossed ourselves, genuflected, and entered the pew. I didn't have to bug anyone to scoot down, everyone filed in like we've done this 1000 times before - which we have. We sat in our usual spot: a few rows from the front, on the right. Hubby & I knelt to pray. Adam, Luke, and Joey did the same. Gracie thumbed through the missal. Sam babbled.

The nerve of that baby. He made normal baby noises.

By the looks I got from the older women sitting near us, it was apparent that this joyful noise unto the Lord was most unwelcome. This sound of LIFE, to members of a religion that goes out of its way to profess its unwavering conviction about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, was very, very unwelcome.

Let me make myself clear - he was babbling. Not screaming. Not crying. Not hitting anyone, throwing anything, having a tantrum, making a scene. He. Was. Babbling.

So the woman sitting two rows in front of us was apparently so distressed at his presumption that she felt it her duty to turn and give my son The Eye. She turned herself, head and shoulders, all the way around in her pew, to make sure that my little heathen child - who's sole purpose was to wreck havoc upon the the Holy Mother Church and bring about all of our ruin and damnation - she had to make sure my evil child (and, by association, my heathen husband, who was holding said Spawn of Evil) knew that he was disrupting her serene and quiet contemplation of her own silent perfection, moral spotlessness, and unparalleled charity.

Sensing the snit that was brewing, I motioned for Hubby to pass the baby to me, thinking that it was pretty close to nap time and some good walking at the back of the sanctuary could send Rosemary's Baby into dreamland and therefore avoid snittery.

I rose with Sam, exited the pew, genuflected (no mean feat with 27 pounds of evil in your arms) and started walking back down the aisle that I had just come up not three minutes earlier. I passed a pair of grey-haired ladies on my way, one of whom whispered to me, "Thank you."

Um, I'm sorry, but WHAT?!


And this is where I rant, because I couldn't do it there. 

We are (supposed to be) a Church that embraces - no, celebrates and rejoices in - LIFE. Guess what? These are the sounds of that life! Here I am, a married mother of five children, a cradle Catholic who loves her faith, the Holy Father, the Sacraments, the Church - and you made me feel ashamed, if only for the smallest fraction of a moment, of my child.

Do you have any idea of the Herculean effort it takes to get a family of seven to Mass on time? Everyone must be breakfasted, hair brushed, teeth brushed, shoes found and on the right feet, clothes clean and pressed and on, baby nursed, everyone bathroomed, out the door ("No! Do NOT brush against the dusty car in your clean clothes!") and in the pew before the entrance hymn. My husband gets home from work at 3 am. He gets up at 8 am on Sundays so that we can be out the door on time. I am a full-time nursing student. We homeschool. We are busy people. The Church - the Mass - is at the center of ALL of that. I bank on that grace to get me through another week!

Let's assume for a minute that I'm not well-grounded in my faith. That I'm not a card carrying member of the open-to-life club. That I don't know my cherubim from my seraphim. Let's say that I was a mom who had to beg and cajole her husband to bring the kids and come to Mass. What did you and your judgement just do? You denied my family a place at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. You made sure that we wouldn't darken the doorstep of another Catholic Church for a good, long time. You are culpable in the eternal damnation of seven people. Good job! Glad you got that quiet time before Mass started.

Children are not the future of the Church. Let's be crystal clear on this point - my baptized-and-well-catechized children have just as much right to be at Mass as anyone else. My children are the Church, just as any baptized person is.

They are the children of the Almighty. And He loves them.

Mt 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Mt 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

How can we expect children to be raised in the faith if we do not welcome them into it? Here we could take a lesson from our Protestant bretheren: they know families. They know how to treat little people. Ah, the irony is rich here! I know that as Catholics we want our children with us at worship - and I agree that children should be in Mass and not at CCD or "Sunday School" during Mass time. Their place is at Mass. They need to be present at the Consecration, to see the miracle of Christ made real, Christ present for every one of us. They need those graces. So do I. But after a few minutes with my fifth blessing in the back of the sanctuary - where neither of us could see a darn thing and I couldn't let him down, as he would have drooled all over the pretty display for the Young Adult Ministry (yes, Lord, I see the irony, too!) I left. I fled the church. Me. I got the stroller out of the minivan and I walked two blocks to the mall.

So if I felt unwelcome - (me! Cradle Catholic. Homeschool nutjob who has her kids memorize the Baltimore Catechism. Married in the Church. Former Pre-Cana sponsor. Me.) - how would a lonely, searching, unmarried mom of one little baby feel, surrounded by so much judgement? One hairy eyeball and one smarmy comment were enough to ruin my whole morning, and make certain that I'll never cross the threshold of that sanctuary again. What if I had no other options? What if I couldn't drive to another Mass? What if the only experience I had of the Church was that one from this morning?

No wonder vocations are at a critical level.

Am I angry? You bet your chapel veil I am! Don't mess with my children. Don't mess with my Church.


Natalie said...

Well-written and much-needed!

Amy Ekblad said...

Did you tell the priest? I told the priest once and he did a FLAMING homily about this issue the next Mass AND he put it in the bulletin week after week. We still left that parish but it was nice that the priest cared.

stellamaris said...

You really need to let the priest know. Maybe your family is exactly what these ladies needed to help them grow in patience and charity, and he can teach them. And you can grow in patience and understanding for their shortcomings, while they come along. Even just print off your blog and give it to him?

Lloyd said...

Loni - Oh my goodness - you can't think you did anything wrong - you KNOW you didn't do anything wrong. Just pray for those poor people who griped at you and also for all of us that we don't stray so far in our thoughts of our own congregation's children someday when we are old.

I felt so proud just listening to your story when a large family has taught their children so well not to fuss in church. I have a four boys who do ok as well and a little 3 year old who builds with the new laminated prayers and gives out a cute sound here and there - I'll join you next time :-)

I agree with everyone else here, you just have to tell the priest - he's clearly missing out on an important lesson for his sheep.


Caroline said...

Hi--I really appreciated your story, and I empathize with you completely. In fact, when a toddler was fairly loud in our synagogue the other day, this post came to mind immediately -- and I get that your child was actually not making significant noise!

Thanks for sharing. I agree that a conversation with the priest may help. Good luck!

Amanda W said...

This is the second post of yours I've read this morning that I REALLY appreciate. My exuberant and spirited 4 year old son annoyed a lector/Eucharistic minister to the point that she felt she must make her displeasure known a few weeks ago. I, shamefully, haven't taken my family back to mass since. While our track record attending mass hasn't been perfect, this is the longest we've not attended for as long as I can remember. You may have helped me steel my nerves for tomorrow so I can return with my head held high and claim my family's right to be present for mass.