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My Kids Are Not the Distraction at Mass; I Am

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"No wonder they don't pay attention; I really don't, either."

Get up. Get dressed. Rouse all 10 kids from sleep. Get the lunches made. Get breakfast made. Get the teens out the door. Make sure they have coats and gloves and that the 16-year-old didn’t take six waters. Get the next group ready. Get them out the door. Get the third group to finally give up their blankets, get them dressed, their teeth and hair brushed and shoes and socks on their little feet. (They still think footwear is optional, even in this weather.)  Coats, scarves, gloves, lunch boxes, back packs and let’s go. In the car. Grab a diet Coke, my purse, my phone, my calendar planner and the keys.

This is the ordinary schedule. Around nine o’clock the last bus picks up, and I go back to the house to start the routine parts of the day: dishes, laundry, beds, trash, paperwork, dry cleaning, dinner.

But the schedule doesn’t tell the whole story — only the points that must happen, not all that does happen.  It doesn’t include: make sure two of them get their antibiotics, make sure so-and-so gets a morning shower. Get a towel for the teen yelling for it from the bathroom. Find three shoes. Someone needs a bandage. Two need my help to stop quarreling.

The schedule doesn’t reveal whether I did this with love, or out of duty.

Mass can run the same way. We know the process: when to sit, when to stand, when we’re supposed to sing, when we’re supposed to pray aloud. But the external actions don’t fully reveal our participation.

I spent a good part of last week’s Mass playing Kid-Tetris in the pew and dealing with the consequences of my decisions about who should sit next to whom. Walking up to receive Our Lord, I wondered how I’d missed so much. “No wonder they don’t pay attention; I don’t really either.”

As a freelancer, I recently had an assignment to visit the relics of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Baltimore. We decided to make it a family trip and took the youngest six with us, only to have that plan dashed by a lack of parking. Instead, my husband dropped me off and took the kids to get some chicken. I expected my stop to be brief. Instead, I found myself in the back of a church waiting for the end of a second Mass, which according to the schedule I thought would have already concluded.

So I took a seat in the back, out of the church body. It was a magnificent and unrushed celebration. An usher saw me, and invited me in. At first I deferred. But the church itself, and the music of the choir, and the words of the priest, and yes, the Holy Spirit, weren’t going to allow me to remain behind the doors.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Wasn’t I supposed to come, view the relics and be on my way?

No. I was to sit and know He Who Is.

I found myself wishing my children could be there with me. Other children were there, laughing, singing out their own songs, and no one seemed to be bothered.  Perhaps my own children, while squirmy and very human, weren’t in fact the disruption of my earlier Mass. It was just me. I was allowing myself to be disrupted by them. I had to drop my ego and refrain from casting the blame on them.  I had to take definitive ownership of where the fault lies.

The difference between prayer — any prayer, be it the rosary, adoration, Scripture, Mass — being rote, and being real for us, is how we enter into it.  His presence is real whether we notice or not, but if we’re going to enter into the life of Heaven found in the Mass, we must surrender to the invitation, put down the distracted “I” and turn toward him.

And yes, God will pull out all the stops to let us know how happy he is to have us accept his invitation. When I asked at the end of that beautiful Mass in Baltimore, “How do I recapture this being present when I’ve got everyone with me?”  God’s answer was at the ready: the same way he won my attention that Sunday — love and beauty.

This Sunday, I’ll be armed with a battle plan to love beyond what is merited by behavior — outrageous lavish love.

 

Sherry Antonetti is a former special educator and currently a freelance writer and mother of 10. She writes at Catholicmom.com and her blog, Chocolate for Your Brain. E-mail her at sherryantonettiwrites@yahoo.com.
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