Add another entry for what just might become a regular column here: Tales from the Pew.
Plenty of blog posts have been written and much advice has been offered to those of us bringing little ones to Mass week in and week out. Where’s the best place to sit to help keep kids focused? What’s the best time to attend Mass? Cheerios — yes or no? Cry room — yes or no? Nursery — yes or no? Should we bring “busy bags” to Mass to keep kids entertained? And on and on roll the suggestions.
The good news? This is *not* one of those how-to posts. Those who sat near me and the kids on Sunday might become a tad suspicious if I dared to publish any best-practice thoughts on this matter at this juncture. You see, we weren’t at our best. I was tired and ultra-impatient. My children were squirrels. One morphed into a shrieking squirrel, in fact. May God abundantly bless the family who once again showered us with their gift of holy hospitality and allowed us to share a pew with them. Turns out this family is also particularly gifted with the charism of squirrel calming.
Then there was a sweet man and woman, probably in their mid-seventies, who sat directly behind us. I’ve seen them around the parish; they strike me as a caring and grandparental couple. Actually, let’s just call them grandpa and grandma. A few months ago, grandpa, who is a gentleman in both dress and actions, spotted Joel wearing a bow tie and stopped him after Mass to recollect back to the days when most men wore them to Mass. When I saw this couple sitting behind us on Sunday, I breathed a sigh of relief. High fives all around for nice people.
Even so, I still felt the need to turn around a few times during Mass and extend an olive branch. Usually their heads were bowed in prayer, remaining undistracted. Impressive. At one point I even mouthed, “I’m sorry!” They mouthed back, “It’s okay!” Grandpa offered me a compassionate smile and wink. During the sign of peace, grandpa grabbed my left hand with both of his, and grandma grabbed my right with both of hers. They told me not to worry one bit because my kids and I were doing just fine. The olive branch they offered back was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. And as comforting as that all was, there’s still one more thing grandpa said that deserves headline treatment. After Mass had ended, he said:
God-willing, if I make it to Purgatory, these kids here will be the ones praying for me, helping me get to Heaven. I love seeing them here. We need them here.
I stood there with tears in my eyes and simply said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that today.” Night and day difference from the time a woman told Joel and me that our kids didn’t belong at Good Friday liturgy. That woman said, God’s honest truth, “Those kids should be at home with their grandma.” (What, grandmas shouldn’t attend Good Friday liturgy, either?!)
We are called to be a pro-life Church, to welcome children into our homes and into our parishes. Yet I find that the contraceptive mentality can quite easily creep its way into the sanctuary when we are a little bugged by the actions of a few kids. A teething baby, a squirrely toddler, a less-than-thrilled-to-be-there teenager. Get ’em out. Banish them to children’s church. Hang out in the cry room if they’re too young for children’s church. Hire a babysitter if you have to and bring them back when they can sit still.
Then there’s my parish’s foster grandpa and grandma with one of the most pro-life attitudes I have ever heard in response to children’s attendance at Mass.
… these kids here will be the ones praying for me, helping me get to Heaven.
Chances are, grandpa and/or grandma will die before me and my kids. And you know what, if they do, when we pray for the dead during the Prayers of the Faithful at each Mass, guess who I’m going to pray for? Grandpa and grandma. And I’ll teach and encourage my kids to do the same.
So please, some food for thought as you travel along your spiritual journey — the next time you find yourself sitting behind a family with their “hands full,” rather than immediately breaking into a well-intentioned litany of How-To-Handle-Your-Kids-at-Mass suggestions, keep in mind that one day it’s those same squirrels who may very well pray you into Heaven.