Column name: Everyday Holiness
If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard them at Mass – crying babies, irritable toddlers, whiny-squirmy children. If you attend a house of worship other than Catholic, you probably feel the same way I did at first: Why aren’t those kids in the nursery or Sunday school during Mass? Don’t the parents realize that their kids are disturbing the worship?
As a brief tutorial, Protestant churches typically have nursery care and Sunday school during the worship service, rendering worship sweetly serene, while most Catholic churches take the “Let the children come to Me” approach. Hence, Catholic kids sit (or squirm) throughout the entirety of Mass.
When my family began our journey into the Catholic Church, one of my first impressions was that Mass was dreadfully noisy. How could I pray with all of that racket? Why didn’t the parents take the children out when they fussed? Wasn’t there a crying room for such children?
Let the children come to Me? Bah! Humbug!
My attitude has softened. Certainly a child should be removed when the screams drown out the priest or deacon. That’s common sense.
But there is a more important point here: Let’s thank God for the young families among us. Believe me, it is much easier to stay home. Think of the effort it takes to get kids dressed, fed, combed, shepherded into car seats and engaged throughout Mass, not to mention kept quiet. I have undying admiration for parents who bring their children to Mass week after week. These families bring life to the church.
By God’s sweet irony, nowadays, I’m often privileged to sit at Mass with small children who occasionally grow squirmy or talkative. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the pew.
So here are some lessons I have learned from noisy children and their families:
1. One does not need to pass an entrance exam in order to be invited into God’s presence. All are welcome. Jesus accepts us just the way we are: broken, wounded and noisy.
2. Parents who bring small children to church should be congratulated, not judged.
3. It’s not all about me.
4. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. God did not promise that it would always be a pretty noise.
5. As the Body of Christ, we need to step up and help. Most of us sit in the same pew week after week and, therefore, we recognize worshipers in adjacent pews. If a nearby child is acting up, offer to help. Sit with the other children while the parent takes the noisy one out. Offer to hold the baby. Pick up dropped items. Offer anything – just get involved. This is especially important if a parent is there without a spouse. The Body of Christ is a family. We need to act like one.
6. Jesus called for the children to come to him when his disciples tried to shoo them away. It’s pretty likely that there was a rowdy child or two in the bunch, but Jesus made it clear that he wanted them at his side. We ought to be similarly welcoming.
Years ago, I was at a local breakfast spot for one-on-one time with my young daughter Tierney. She was very good-natured, so I was surprised when she began to fuss after the food was served. Whimpers turned into cries, then wails. It quickly became clear that the situation was not going to improve, so I scrambled to pack up food, toddler, coats, diaper bag, purse and check as I headed to the cash register. By this point, Tierney was in an all-out meltdown, shrieking at full volume and furiously thrashing her arms and legs like an angry bull.
And no one lifted a finger to help. This was a fairly small town, mind you. People knew each other.
Instead, I was pelted with those, “Why can’t you control your child?” laser gazes.
I tell this story because someone should have offered assistance, if only to carry the diaper bag to the car. A little moral support goes a long way.
Similarly, worshipers have a responsibility to help young families who are sitting nearby. Yes, a responsibility.
Young children bring a joyful noise to our worship, and they remind us that everyone is welcome – even the littlest ones who have not yet learned church etiquette or inside voices. “Let the children come to Me,” Jesus told us, “for to such as these belongs the kingdom of God.”
By the way, when young Tierney finally settled down, she explained her tantrum. She wanted french fries.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.