When I look back on my days before kids (and I have to force myself to remember sometimes that there were, in fact, days before kids in my life), I find myself romanticizing them (the days, not the kids). My clothes were cleaner, or at least less covered in mystery stains, my bedroom was neater (sort of), and my time spent with Jesus in any way was so much richer and more focused.
Yeah. About that.
It may not have been harder to focus at Mass, but it was certainly no easier.
As you may or may not know, I am a cradle Catholic. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed Sunday Mass, and all of them were related to “life or death” circumstances. Being homeschooled, I have also attended daily Mass on a fairly regular basis since the age of about 10. I’m not saying this for my own edification, but to impress on you my level of experience with simply being at Mass. Suffice it to say, I’m no novice when it comes to filling a pew.
Lately, there’s a been a trend of bloggers trash talking the idea of bringing children to “church,” be it Catholic or not. Aside from being offended on behalf of my own children, and aside from being offended at the sheer hubris of believing that because someone is younger than I am he doesn’t deserve to participate in public worship, and even aside from the fact that these bloggers are literally going completely against what Jesus Himself told us (you know, that whole thing about “suffering” and “the little children” and Him), I just find the whole idea to be utterly stupid and ill-informed. Clearly, the people writing these posts don’t know jack about being at church with children.
Growing up in a largish family, there have basically always been plenty of kids at just about everything: weddings, funerals, parties of all sorts, and yes, even Mass. My family knows how to play “pass the baby” across up to five pews without ever dropping said precious bundle. We have all spent many a homily allowing a niece or nephew, son or daughter, or cousin, to chew on our Scapulars just to keep him or her quiet. More than once, we have each had to escort a toddler on the verge of a tantrum to the vestibule to avoid disrupting the Consecration.
I get it: Children can be distracting.
But what I have found to be even truer is this: Children give us an opportunity to refocus our attention on Christ. Every time I have to quiet a child at Mass or during Eucharistic Adoration or any of the other many services we attend with the children in our family, I am given a chance to turn my attention back to the Lord, to the Altar, and to the prayer at hand. Every time I have to turn away from Jesus in the Real Presence, it is actually a time of turning towards Him in the face of a child who is learning from me not only how to behave in church, but how to value human life in all stages.
Children make noise. They don’t sit still for very long. They need to drink and eat more often than adults. They need to talk sometimes, even when it seems like poor timing. It’s how God made them. In bringing them to Mass, we adults are expecting quite a lot from them. And sometimes, we have to show them how to behave by ignoring their antics, trusting that they will subside just as most behaviors will without the expected attention. I usually find myself keeping my attention on Christ in order to keep it off of them. In straining to hear the words of the Mass over their childish chatter, I find myself actually paying closer attention to it rather than just letting the words go in one ear and out the other. Having kids at Mass helps me to appreciate the beauty, the order, and the wonder of the Holy Sacrifice.
Let me end with this. In my college years, when I attended Mass often on campus, with no noisy or playful tykes vying for my attention, I still managed to veer “off topic” in my prayers. I would find myself thinking of the next exam or a paper that was due or that cute boy who played Jesus in the Living Stations (who became my husband, by the way, so, yeah), or a fight I’d had with a friend. With or without children, there is always going to be plenty to distract us. I’ve simply found that with children, the distractions are momentary, and the rewards for bringing them to church are lasting, for both adult and child.
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