Every week my wife and I bring our two young children to Mass. We typically go to Mass at the same time each week. We sit in the same general area. We are typically surrounded by the same people. Yet the one thing that is never “the same” is our children’s behavior.
Yes, we have some very good days when my son uses his “church voice,” recites some parts of the prayers, and even sings along. There are good days where my daughter doesn’t want to just crawl under the pews and throw the Mass response card a dozen times into the pew in front of us. But there are also days when my son isn’t a good listener and plays keep-away with his sister’s book. Yes, there are days when our daughter is very vocal.
Whether we are in the midst of a good day or a bad day, days where I can actually say a prayer besides “Lord, help me not lose it,” or days that tempt me to reconsider my discernment between priesthood and married life, we hear the same consoling words. No, I’m not talking about “The Lord be with you,” or “The Mass is ended…” I’m not even talking about the words of consecration. Almost every week, we hear “They are so good,” uttered by a couple more advanced in years than my wife and me.
Hearing those words on the days where I know and this couple knows that the children were not on their best behavior is music to my ears. Those words, that couple’s simple gesture, speak volumes about the Body of Christ; they speak about evangelization. As the Body of Christ, we are called to build each other up. As coworkers in the vineyard of evangelization, we are called to draw others closer to Christ. This simple phrase does both.
Before I had children, there were times when I would not have the same attitude that this couple has towards children who are not using their “inside church voice” or being “good listeners” for Mommy and Daddy. A baby crying did not fill me with empathy for the parents but with judgment. I would think, “Why can’t you control your kid?” This is an attitude that some may have when my children aren’t behaving as I think they should be during Mass. This attitude can divide the Body of Christ and can do the opposite of evangelizing.
We have been on the receiving end of eye rolls, loud sighs, and comments under people’s breath. It is in those moments that I can understand how people may choose to stop going to Mass. How unwelcoming; how divisive! Instead of drawing our brothers and sisters closer to the Lord, we steer them away—with a glance, a sigh, or an unwelcome gesture.
It is not my intention to paint a negative image of those who show their frustration in these situations, nor do I paint that image with broad strokes. I think the majority of people who attend Mass are understanding of these situations. I also know that people go to Mass to pray and bring their hearts’ intentions before the Lord and to receive Him. However, it is important to, in a way, leave our expectations at the doors of the church—all of us.
Parents of young children must leave expectations of their children’s behavior at the door. Of course, there is behavior to encourage and discourage. At the same time, however, we must not allow anxiety or fear of what others around us may or may not be thinking (which would fall into the category of judgment on our part) discourage us from the Reality taking place before us.
All of us should walk through the doors of our parishes or chapels ready for the Lord to take us by surprise. Getting back to what I stated above about the “sameness” we experience each week: some of the tradition and ritual will be the same—the prayers, responses, readings, etc. Yet God can surprise us and speak to us in new ways every day! If we set aside our preconceived expectations about Mass and allow His Spirit to enter our hearts, God can speak to us through a crying baby, through a kind word, or any way He wishes.
In the end, I do not know the names of this one couple or their life stories. I imagine they have been in our shoes and are doing their small part in building up the body of Christ. Whatever their intention is, they certainly have been an instrument of God’s grace and kindness for my wife and me. A simple phrase, a kind smile, and a handshake made my family feel welcome in God’s house and taught us a little bit more about what it means to be His.