We don’t really know each other, but I felt compelled to write you this letter after our brief post-Mass conversation last Sunday.
I’m sure you remember me: I’m the overwhelmed, un-showered, snack-spilling, toy-bringing, throw-up-wearing, pacifier-dropping ringmaster of the three-ring circus in the pew directly in front of you.
We’re the reason folks miss the homily. We’re the loud “Amen!” at the wrong time; the snotty handshake at the sign of peace; the distraction of nursing during the consecration … I could go on and on.
I’m not sure you knew this, but we’re also something else: deeply self-conscious about the way we may be impacting the Mass experience of others.
I’m guessing it probably doesn’t look this way, but every time one of our “supreme gifts of marriage” speaks too loudly, drops a hymnal, plays with the kneeler or fills their diaper, we are completely embarrassed and terrified that it might be distracting others from their worship of Almighty God.
I’m realizing now that it must not look that way, because last Sunday you felt inspired by the Holy Spirit (I’m assuming) to let me know that I was handling the situation all wrong.
Didn’t I know there was a crying room where I could let my children be as crazy as they want to be? Could I take the screaming baby outside next time? Why didn’t I inform my children that they shouldn’t be dancing in the pews during the Gospel? Don’t I know people are trying to pray?!
I feel bad that I didn’t have much of a response for you at the time you provided me with this helpful feedback. To be honest, I was so crushed by your comments that I didn’t stand a chance of offering anything back other than, “I’m sorry.”
On the way to our minivan, my mind started racing with all the things I wish I would have said in reply.
I wish I would have told you how the dirty looks and critical comments about children make parents second-guess whether they should be bringing them to Mass.
I wish I would have reminded you about Mark 10, where the disciples rebuked parents for bringing their children to Jesus. I wish I would have asked you if you remembered Jesus’ reaction:
“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”
He was indignant!
I wish I would have reminded you about Pope Paul VI’s words in Gaudium Et Spes, where he reminds us all that, “Children are really the supreme gift of marriage …”
The truth we all have to wrap our minds around is that one of the ways children are a supreme gift is precisely because of the reasons they are frustrating you (and me, by the way) at Mass. They distract us, annoy us, make it difficult for us to focus on our own priorities, and because of all that they are working hard to turn us into saints.
I wish I would have let you know that my children annoying you at Mass may be exactly what God wanted for you, as a way to help you overcome self-centered thinking and become the saint God created you to be! I know that’s what he’s got my kids doing for me.
Lastly, I wish I would have reminded you that our Catholic faith is pro-life. And as much as it can be inconvenient and difficult, annoying children and fussy babies are the beautiful result of those pro-life beliefs.
When I think of Jesus looking down at our parish, I have to image he gets a big smile across his face when he hears the priest’s homily being interrupted by babbling, laughing and screaming youngsters.
As I was getting dressed for this Sunday’s Mass, I made sure to keep these responses at the forefront of my mind, finally ready to let you know what I really thought of your comments from the previous week.
And that’s when it hit me.