As we sat in the pew on Holy Thursday waiting for mass to begin, I couldn’t help but notice that, aside from one other family with older kids, ours were the only children in attendance.
(Side note: Let’s just take a moment to celebrate that we were actually in church waiting for mass to start, instead of the all too common running late, dive into the pew before the priest gets all the way down the aisle routine. Our spirits and confidence soared with this familial victory, which helped keep us afloat later as we neared hour 2. I honestly sort of forgot how lengthy that mass can be. Nevertheless, I digress.)
After our daughter was born (our first), I remember the anxiety of taking her to church weighed heavy on us. One of us would race her out of church like something was on fire at even the slightest detection of eyebrow movement or lip quiver, in fear that she would — gasp — cry! We went on like that for several Sundays, spending all our time and attention on trying to keep our newborn absolutely quiet instead of actively engaging ourselves in the mass celebration.
I was feeling especially anxious on her baptism day. We typically chose seats near the side or back of church, you know, for a quick and clean get-a-way should the need arise. But on that day, when I should have been feeling joyous and excited for the sacrament, I was nothing short of terrified as we shuffled into the reserved front and center seats. After the opening prayer, perhaps inspired by the look of frazzled panic on my face, the priest relieved my fears with a simple reminder of Jesus’ love for little ones. He made a few jokes about signing the noisy babies up for the church choir, but he assured us that it was OK if they cry and encouraged families to bring their children to church. How comforting to remember. I’m relatively certain Mark 19:14 did not include any fine print. “Let the children come to me…(as long as they sit like completely silent statues. Wiggly noisemakers need not apply.)”
The summer after graduating high school, I had the amazing opportunity to spend 10 days in a small remote community in Nicaragua. The first Sunday that I attended mass at the parish there, I will admit I was a bit taken aback. The aisles were filled with mothers bouncing their babies, and children traveled from pew to pew visiting others and were catching lizards that frequented the walls of the church. At first glance, and from an outsider’s (accustomed to a quiet, more stoic mass atmosphere) perspective, this scene almost seemed irreverent. After a bit more contemplation and observation, I realized that it was in fact the most reverent and God-filled faith community I had ever witnessed. It truly was one big family gathering together to celebrate mass at God’s house.
Now, I am not necessarily suggesting we set a bunch of reptiles loose in our churches. (Though that could be fun.) What I am hoping is that we, as individual parishes and the Catholic community as a whole, will do our best to support, include, and encourage young families to participate with their children. Smile warmly at the mother sweating profusely attempting to bounce her baby to sleep. Play peek-a-boo with the wiggly toddler in the pew in front of you. Introduce yourself to a family after mass and comment how great it was to see little ones in church. Create a warm and loving community for all ages.
As I lead my family mother-duck style into church on Sunday mornings, I cannot promise that my children will behave like little angels. (Despite the stand’s solid appearance, it’s amazing how much movement a tiny set of hands can get out of a Vatican flag in a very short amount of time.) But we will be there, ready to celebrate with all of you as one big family at God’s house!