It all started on a sunny day in California, when Big-Sis was a little over a year. We were at Mass, and for some reason our sweet little cherub was taking a fit. My husband carried her to the cry room with the hopes of calming her down, but to no avail. When the time for Communion came, Chris had to carry her, while she was kicking and screaming, to the front of the church to receive the Holy Eucharist. From then on, attending Mass has never been the same.
I don’t have many memories of my older children misbehaving in church when they were little. Time has softened those jarring occasions into misty memories of walking up and down the back of the church with a restless toddler and whispering threats and bribes to kids with ants in their pants.
Of course, there was the time when All-Star and Feisty got into a a fist-fight during Mass. And then there was the Mass when All-Star convinced Feisty to ring the church bell that hung above the back pew, right during the elevation of the Host. DING! DONG! DING! I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Yes, time has dimmed the recollection of a multitude of Mass-time aggravations. And that is so encouraging, because going to Mass with Princess and Rascal can still be incredibly distracting or extremely embarrassing.
Once when Rascal was two, the priest was reading the Gospel story of Jesus and the little children. When he read, “Let the little children come to me,” Rascal ran down the aisle and stood beside the priest at the pulpit. Now, generally I’d be thrilled if a toddler actually paid attention during Mass. Not this time.
Not long after that we were on vacation, and so we were attending Mass at an unfamiliar church. In middle of the homily, I felt a warm trickle on my foot. You know what a warm trickle means, don’t you? Yep. Rascal had just wet his pants. I spent a good portion of that Mass looking for the washroom, cleaning him up, and wiping the floor.
A few months later, I was heavily pregnant with Princess. In fact, I was due any day. I brought the kids to Mass, and as soon as I got to the church, I knew it was going to be a rough morning. Someone had taken our usual back seat, and we had no choice but to sit in the middle pew of the tiny church. Partway through Mass, Rascal and Feisty started fighting. A gentleman from across the aisle came over and whispered, “Ma’am, why don’t you take him to the cry room?” Embarrassed, I carried Rascal to the cry room and swung the door shut. WHAM! The door slammed. The glass of the cry room reverberated. Inwardly I groaned, for it looked and sounded as if I had stalked off and slammed the door shut. I had forgotten that the hinges on the door were really loose. Ordinarily, I would have laughed. But pregnancy hormones were running thick in my veins. I was so humiliated that I cried.
A year later, I was at Mass in a beautiful historic church in Annapolis. I was at the back of the church following little Princess as she tottered back and forth. Nothing would stop her from babbling or screaming except letting her explore the back of the church. In came an elegant old lady, who arrived late for Mass. She saw our little Princess and beamed. Bending down towards her, the lady cooed, “Oh! What a darling little angel!” At that, Princess stuck out her tongue and made the sound of passing gas (something she had learned from her big brothers, no doubt!). The insulted lady walked off with a huff. So much for the darling little angel!
Do your kids ever fight as they go down the Communion line? Tell me it’s not just a Cooney thing. Last year we were in line for Communion. Princess and Rascal started fighting over whose turn it was to stand in front of the other. I held Rascal and whispered to him that it was Princess’ turn to stand in front. Rascal grumbled but complied. However, just as the priest was about to bless Princess, Rascal shoved Princess with a vengeance. She bumped into Father John and the Host came flying out of his hands. Horrified, I watched as the Host dropped onto the ground. Hastily, I picked up the Host and said, “Father, I’ll take this One.” After Mass, we made Rascal apologize to the priest. Thankfully, he didn’t excommunicate us. In fact, he was wonderfully kind and understanding.
We all know that taking little kids to Mass is challenging. It is 45-60 minutes of eye-brow raising, shh-ing, bouncing, walking back and forth at the back of the church, and wishing your kids could sit still for just ten minutes more. When my kids bang the kneeler on my feet, bicker in church, climb over and under the pew, and display the personal items in my purse, whispering loudly, “Mommy, what’s this for? What’s it FOR?”, I just want to disappear, evaporate, and hide my mortified face from amused onlookers. Sometimes I feel as if it is only a matter of time before we get kicked out of church.
Bringing my kids to Mass is a sacrifice, sometimes a long, mortifying, patience-testing sacrifice. But I need to remind myself that no matter how large a sacrifice it may be, it’s nothing in comparison to the gift of the Holy Eucharist, nothing compared to the graces that Christ pours into our souls and the souls of our children. People risk their lives and shed their blood to get to Mass. They’ve done so for centuries and they continue to do so today. That’s just one small indication of how infinitely precious the Holy Eucharist is.
To be united with Christ, to receive Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, is a Divine Treasure we should never take for granted. The price we pay is so infinitely small in comparison to the tremendous Gift we are given. As distracting as our kids are, let’s try to keep in mind that what happens at Mass is the most important, most transformative, most beautiful, and most loving event of the day. Sunday Mass is the pinnacle of the week.
Of course, we should do our best to participate in the Mass as fully as possible, to actively listen to the readings, Gospel, and homily, and to pray the liturgy of the Eucharist. But if our participation at Mass is far from perfect, let’s not get discouraged. Our Lord understands what a challenge it can be to bring little ones to church, and He will bless us for our efforts.
On those days when your kids are really out of control, remember this: Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 2:17) Sinners? That’s us. The worse my kids are, the more we need Him. As parents of young, lively, rambunctious kids, we need all the graces we can get. For only Christ can transform our children into the holy men and women He desires them to be.
So, despite the shenanigans of our holy terrors, let’s carry on with faith, hope, and love. Right now, with little kids in tow, holiness means patience and perseverance.
But tell me I’m not the only one with lively kids in church. What have your kids done to make Mass distracting or embarrassing? And how do you get them to behave in church?