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A letter to the parents who keep bringing their disruptive kids to Mass, week after week

MASS,YOUNG CHILD
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Christ had something pretty important to say about people like us.

Dear exhausted, discouraged parents,

So your kids are just terrible in Mass. Chaotic, disobedient, and disruptive, week after week. It’s like a big old spotlight is shining on you the whole time, you and your apparently sub-par parenting.

I’m right there with you. I’ve started to dread Sundays. I mean, we’ve tried everything. Going to the early Mass, going to the evening Mass, Mass books, whispered explanations, whispered threats, sitting in the front, sitting in the back, marching straight to the cry room … and maybe a few of the tricks have helped, but the bottom line is that we’re not getting out of that building without somebody screaming, making a mad dash for the altar, or God knows what.

But in spite of it all, every week, I and my loud, chaotic family are going to be there (in the back!) wiggling around and distracting everyone, and subjecting ourselves to the judgment of a large number of people who might not understand how hard it actually is to teach a toddler to sit quietly for 45 minutes. It looks insane. Still, we button up our wrinkled Sunday clothes anyway, and get our bodies under that roof, just like Mother Church asks us to.

I want you to know that if this is you too, that’s okay. It’s better than okay. Christ had something pretty important to say about people like us:

When [Jesus] looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Isn’t this exactly what we are doing? We are giving it literally all we’ve got, in obeying the Church’s request to make it to Sunday Mass. (Sheer embarrassment, unfortunately, isn’t a good enough reason to stay home.) To the outside world, it looks like we’ve done the bare minimum. We’ve gotten into the building, sure, but are we concentrating? Are we having a spiritual experience? Did we even hear a word of the Gospel, for heaven’s sake? It doesn’t look like much. We are the only ones who know how much we are really giving. But Christ knows, too.

Just like the woman’s two small coins into the collection box look like nothing in comparison with the rich man’s gigantic bag of gold, our contribution looks so small a person might wonder why we even bother. Why even come to Mass, if you’re just going to spend the whole time doing toddler damage control? But Christ is there to remind us that he doesn’t see what the rest of the world sees.

Pretty often, I leave Mass feeling like the whole thing was a bust. I didn’t even manage to follow along, and I left so fast I forgot to genuflect. What kind of a Catholic am I? If that’s how you feel too, don’t forget — having little kids, or kids with special needs, or whatever situation you’re in that makes it impossible to kneel quietly and listen carefully, this is a unique kind of poverty. And we, in our poverty, really do give all we have, just by doing our best. Even if our best is just showing up.

So don’t stop. And please don’t worry too much about how your family looks. Even if it never gets easier, keep doing what you are doing, and know that even when the world doesn’t, God sees how valuable your sacrifice is.

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