Year of Mercy

Ringleading the circus to Mass and finding Mercy

Getting the family to church on time is no small feat and a little human kindness goes a long way

Ringleading the circus to Mass and finding Mercy

Jeffrey Bruno

23) Offer to drive an elderly person to Mass. 56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy

Getting my crew to Sunday Mass takes a playbook. The night my husband and I wrote it, like coaches huddled over stats, we started giggling like toddlers. How did this become our life?

“Getting out of the house,” I scribbled at the top of the page, and then made a column for me and another for him. And then, starting with 40 minutes pre-departure, and presupposing that we ourselves would be already dressed and ready, we went through and assigned the tasks that need to happen, who would be doing them, and the optimal order — everything from getting Grandma in and out of the bathroom and into the car, to getting each child dressed and loaded.

The playbook only foresees normal circumstances. But it keeps us focused if the toddler dumps juice on his shirt. Or there is an unexpected dirty diaper. Or a never-can-plan-for-it muscle freeze that makes getting Gram in the car extra time-consuming. If Daddy is held up, I know what is pending on his list. And vice versa.

Since I insist that we will arrive on time for Mass (if we see we won’t make it, we change plans for a later one in the day), with a high level of frantic, we usually screech into the parking lot (please, Our Lady of Good Timing, let there be an empty handicap spot). Unload wheelchair, unbuckle kids, grab bags, make a dash, and we’re in. Then the real fun begins …

And that was two kids ago. The playbook stuck to the fridge got abandoned along the way. I’d like to say that’s because we got so adept at ringleading the circus that we didn’t need it anymore. Actually, we just lowered our standards and got used to higher-decibel yelling. And now we live in a metropolis with a basically endless number of back-ups for a later Sunday Mass.

But we manage most Sundays to attend services at a small parish. There are many things I love about it, from the liturgy to the singing to the Sunday school. But one of its simplest practices is for me among the most wonderful: the ushers at our regular Mass are always the same gentlemen.

That meant that within two weeks of attending the church, the face greeting me at the entrance was warm and familiar.

“Straight to the cry room today? Or are you headed inside?” he asks each week with a smile, holding the doors as I coax my little parade along. And based on how the morning’s going, I answer. We joke about how his question won’t be necessary forever — only the next 10 years or so. He’s never looked us over with a raised eyebrow, and the typical “you’ve got your hands full” early on didn’t drip judgment like it sometimes does.

The kind-hearted ushers are some of my favorite people at the parish. Their service is simple: a smile, a held door, a cheerful word. Week after week.

But it does’t take much kindness for a struggling mom to feel that she’s been swept up into the very arms of God.

One Sunday shortly after my fourth was born, it was time for Communion. Before the baby’s birth, my husband and I had made a plan for how we’d get to the altar each Mass (not a whole playbook this time). I’d have the baby in the wrap so I’d be hands free and could push the wheelchair. Dad would herd the three big kids, none of whom were old enough to stay behind in the pew.

It would work fine, except if a kid decided he or she just had to be by Mommy. Or if the baby writhed and screamed in the sling. Or someone lost a shoe. Or got distracted and stopped walking. Or made a beeline for Father.

One of these factors was at play as we rounded the corner for the main aisle that Sunday. Suddenly, quietly, I heard the kind voice of the usher over my left shoulder. “Can I push your mom for you?”

“Oh my gracious, yes … you absolutely can. Thank you.”

I took the 2-year-old’s hand and stepped around Grandma’s chair, leaving the usher to take the handles. My eyes were hot with tears as I approached the communion rail, and my cheeks were soaked by the time Our Lord was placed gently on my tongue.

It was the simplest kindness. Someone charged with looking out for others and performing his duty attentively, as a service of love.

It was one of the most fervent Communions of my life.