Saturday, February 2, 2008

Thanks for Your Support

Last spring, I was waiting in line for confession with my two children. Battling 1st trimester nausea and fatigue, I waited for around 40 minutes in a silent church, desperately trying to keep my 3 year old daughter, Gianna, and 15 month old son, Charlie quiet. I held Charlie tightly, whispering in his ear, bouncing him around. Gianna clung to my legs as I swayed, bounced, and hoped that the line would move faster. I dread taking my children to confession.

The silent church is a real stress elevator for a mother of multiple young children. Sometimes I go to confession with a friend and we take turns watching each other’s children outside the church. Once a kind elderly lady offered to hold my place in line while I took my children outside. On this day, there were no such offers.

As the minutes passed my son got progressively more squirmy and loud. He did not want to be held any longer. With aching arms I finally put him down and asked him to stay close to mama. He tested the waters a bit and wandered about in the pews, he eventually traveled a little too far way for my comfort zone—about 20 feet. In a loud whisper I said, “Charlie, come back here.” He gave me a huge smile and ran back into my open arms.

Instantly a woman I had never seen before, standing two people behind me in line, snarled at me in a raspy voice, “He shouldn’t be running in the church!” Shocked, I looked at her with a blank stare. She repeated her protests about my son’s behavior. Defensively, I said, “I put him down because he was getting very loud with me holding him and I didn’t want to be disruptive. She said, “If you can’t control your children, they don’t belong in here.” Again, shocked, I said, “I’m just trying to be a good Catholic, come to confession, and raise my children in the church.” She may have rolled her eyes at this, although I can’t be sure.

I was fuming mad. Humiliated in front of a whole line of confession seekers, I slumped back against the wall and held my son as he protested. Over and over in my head I just kept thinking, how dare she yell at me. I’m trying to do something good here—and look at the thanks I am getting. I thought, “does she have any idea how hard it is to take young children to confession.” Not to mention, the irony of yelling at someone while in line for confession is simply amazing.

Pridefully, I wanted to scream, “I’m a good Catholic, I know the priests, I lead a Mother’s Rosary group, I help with Pre-Cana, and you are a hypocritical old witch who drives good families away from the Catholic Church.” I said none of these things. I remained silent and I waited in line as it was soon my turn for confession. Once inside the confessional I was confronted with a visiting priest who was less than patient with my whining son. I apologized again and again for Charlie’s whining, but rather than make me feel better about this situation, by saying something like, “it’s just great that you are putting up with all this to come and receive the graces of this beautiful sacrament,” the priest actually asked if I had considered getting a babysitter to come to confession!

Defeated, I left the church furious and almost in tears. I instantly called Juris Mater, who may have been angrier than I was about the scene I had just endured.

I had temporarily forgotten about this tragic incident until this past Sunday when I saw THE woman again. She was sitting 2 rows in front of our family. I whispered to my husband—“that’s the lady who yelled at me while in line for confession.” I may have been imagining it, but she seemed to give me a dirty look on the way back from receiving communion. I was trying to think charitably, and so I really thought that I might have imagined this.

Well, after Mass, Charlie (now age 2) drifted out of the pew and started wandering toward the back of the church. My husband called for him, and Charlie turned around and jogged about 15 feet back towards my husband. Instantly, the woman snarled at Charlie, “No running in the church!” Shocked, my husband just stared at the woman. She then added, “Children need to learn manners, you need to teach them!” My husband, still shocked and unable to speak, just stared at her as though she was insane. The woman then began to exit the church, saying again as she walked past my husband and son, “You need to teach them manners!”

Really. Thanks for enlightening us.

Now, it seems that this woman was just waiting for our family to do SOMETHING so that she could censure us. And after she spoke in such a nasty tone to my husband and my son—I was convinced that she HAD given me a dirty look while in line for communion! Simply amazing. And I would like to add that our children had been very well behaved during the Mass and Charlie’s short jog after Mass was nothing that we felt merited any discipline and I am someone who is very particular about my children’s behavior during Mass.

I assume we will see this woman again. I also assume that she will find something wrong with our behavior and let us know about it immediately, loudly, and in the company of numerous bystanders. Any suggestions on how we should handle this? While part of me just wants to ignore her, taking the criticism as an opportunity to humble myself before a totally nasty woman, I fear that she may be making comments like this to other young families and maybe discouraging them from coming to Mass? It took me at least 4 months to return to confession after my experience—and I am someone who isn’t normally deterred by what other people think of me. Your thoughts?


Catholic Audio said...


In reading your post, I was struck by the image of the Prodigal Son. It's a classic parable for the penitent, so it's not really surprising to think about it in the context of confession. In thinking about it, you'll likely find yourself identifying with the Prodigal Son...

But what struck me as I read this post was that you ought to spend some time thinking about it from another perspective - that of the father. I believe in this experience God has extended you a special grace to let you grow more deep in your love. He is, I believe, calling you to love as He loves.

Think again about the father. His beloved son reproaches him with a request for his inheritance - a rebuke not unlike telling him, "You're dead to me, so give me my money." Since we are given no catalyst for this reproach, it's quite likely that none was intended. In other words, it was completely uncalled-for.

What's the father's response?


Only love.

I believe this is part of what you're being called to do; to love her. Love her against reason. Love her like the father loves the prodigal, even if the prodigal never returns. It's what we are called to do.

In the superabundance of God's love, I believe He affords us opportunities like this so that we can learn to love like He does. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) We cannot love God like that because He was never a sinner...but He gives us the opportunity to love like He does by letting us love others who sin against us while they are sinning against us.

In short, you are being called to love her like God loves you - and this for your own good. Remember, "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord." (Rom 8:28) Let her injustice be returned with love, and in so doing let yourself be transformed by the power of God's love working through you. Always remember: you've been more unjust to God than she's been to you, and when confessing you ask far more of God what I'm suggesting. The servant is no better than the master. (John 13:16)

Ok. So that's the theological part. Now the practical. What to do...

First: pray. Pray for her, pray for an increase in humility for yourself, offer up your shame, indignity and frustration for the salvation of souls, and pray for your children that they may grow in the proper reverence and respect for the sacred.

Second: disarm her. When next you see her, take the initiative and tell her, "Pardon me. I'm Red. What you said last week really made an impact on me. Would you please pray for me and my family?"

(Note: if your kids are still acting this way in their teens, I'd be upset -- but I'm pretty sure there were little ones running amok during the sermon on the mound, so don't feel bad about things. If the lady's upset here, she would have been upset there as well.)

All right. Enough of my rambling. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to a very worthwhile blog.

God Bless,

Juris Mater said...

Ryan, what a wonderful comment for reflection. Thank you so much!

Red, I'm inclined to think, too, that this lady is being very over the top--try to take a deep breath and remember she's not right. We have one of these in our parish--an older gentleman who often shakes his head and interrupts us during Mass to tell us Bella and Bean need to be spanked more. When I start getting really burned, to diffuse the situation, PhDad reminds me that just because he's an active parishoner doesn't mean he's correct or thinking straight. Daily Mass, too, unfortunately seems to have a ratio of 1 holy, sweet lady who loves our children to 1 crabby, frustrated one.

At least an equally important question that you raised is how we can work with priests to foster openness to children with families... especially stay-home moms trying to receive sacraments regularly. We're one of the most overlooked groups in a parish and we're the ones forming the future of the Church day in and day out. Open the nursery, pay a sitter, one morning a week during Mass and confession? Can you imagine what an hour-long weekly mini-retreat of this sort could do for a mom's soul? For now, every second of daily Mass and confession is a battle (including the less-than-pleased responses from priests, like you mentioned.)

Melin said...

I'd make 'Sunday' clothes that said in large letters (for the elderly)

"Christ loves children. You're the one who needs a spanking."

j/k...sort of.

I had a similar experience with a fellow church goer who had judge me (multiple times to multiple people) in a way that I deemed totally unfair and incredibly hurtful. After a lot of thought I decided I would confront her and let her know how I felt and let her know of how she had hurt me.

I prayed a lot for help in this matter, thinking that my 'reproving with kindness' plan would be solid. The Sunday when I was to confront her came and as I sat taking the sacrament I looked over at her and had an overwhelming feeling of letting it go.

Heavenly Father cares less about who is right and wrong and more about who is good. Like Ryan said, who is willing to love. Its a tough and long road to keep loving. But its a good road. A road we should all travel more.

(friend of Mary Alice)

B-Mama said...

I remember an amazing mother of three (who also happened to have some of the best behaved kiddos in the whole church) making me feel better about my son's baby noise in Mass by quoting the Psalms-- "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord." I felt immediately at ease. What a wonderful lady! Yet she was obviously someone who knew and loved children.

I often pray for those who we meet in our day-to-day, who lack the patience and benevolence toward little ones. I recall a completely different encounter with a woman at a coffee shop, who scoffed at my children as they played in an open space. I can only imagine my anger had the occurrence been at church!

I echo Juris Mater's suggestion of enouraging our priests to shepherd their people toward greater love, openness, and support of families. And on the idea of love--perhaps after the next encounter you should invite this woman to dinner at your home? Crazy, yes, but she'd probably be blown out of the water! Sounds like she needs a good hug (and one from a child, while you're at it!).

sixandthecity said...

Pretend she has Alzheimers.

Seriously, I mean no disrespect to anyone suffering from this disease, we have had loved ones experience it, and one thing that sometimes happens is that you lose your filter of what is appropriate, and perhaps your patience, too. The reason I say this is that I think that Ryan and Melin are right about the love, but I also think that love is hard sometimes. If you give this woman a mythic illness, it may be easier to respond with compassion to what is obviously her own suffering over something being misdirected towards you and your children, as well as to stifle your own vanity with regard to her opinion.

I once had a woman approach me in mass and say "remember, your first job is to love them." I think that she had probably noticed that I was grabbing someone a little roughly to get them back into the pew, and she was right. Discipline is part of your job, but your first job is to love them.

Also, just something to throw out there, I do really think that it is important for a family to attend mass together, but I think that there are some "rough" patches in a child's development when it is almost impossible for them to stay in the pew. If that is the case, for your own stress level, especially right now when you have a new baby, you might sometimes alternate with your husband so that you can go to mass alone or just take the older child, and he can go at another hour. We do this when life is sort of falling apart and it really helps.

A priest once kindly reminded me that the mass is an offering to God, it is not for us. Therefore, offer the best mass that you can, whether it is spent in the pew, pacing with a baby in the vestibule, or trying to stifle your anger.

For confession, schedule a seperate time with the priest, so that you don't have to wait, and try to go with another mom and alternate watching each others kids. I have been doing this and have been able to go about twice a month and it has made a huge difference. Plus, since the other mom and I have a commitment to each other, I can't put it off.

I stopped going to daily mass for several weeks after a priest told me that children are sometimes a distraction to the celebrant. I had tons of well composed snarky come backs in my head. Then, I decided that if he was that easily distracted he must have ADD and I started praying for him, went back to mass, and started sitting in the back row. Turns out that the little old men who sit back there are thrilled for our company!

On Sundays, we still sit close to the front. Frankly, the kids who do sit in the back on Sundays are so ill behaved that I find myself thinking more along the lines of your lady! But, at least they are there, at least the parents are trying.

Our wonderful priest in Sag Harbor thanks the parents every week for bringing their children, he is a marriage encounter leader and I think he has spent alot of time with families and realizes that, sadly, mass becomes a huge source of stress for people.

Well, quiet time doesn't sound so quiet right now, so I better get back up there -- while love is my first job, that still involves a lot of discipline!

rebecca said...

Melin and Mary Alice, you are such inspiring mothers. Thank you for your words and examples - I look to you quite often.

Stephanie said...

I am feeling blessed after reading this post for 2 reasons. In my hometown parish, when we are there to visit family, we take up an entire pew. It is grandparents, sisters, and nieces and nephews galore. It is also kind of like a circus between the passing back and gorth of various children to various relatives...but NO ONE minds. In fact, most members of the church look at us with smiling faces and it makes you feel GOOD, which is how you should feel at mass.

Secondly, at our parish in our new town, we have 2 family rooms. They are soundproof with speakers to hear mass, plenty of room, and even bathroom equipped! They even have children's books for the kids to look at. AND, our ECRE program for 3-kindergarten age is also during one of the masses. So, parents can drop off their children to learn about our Faith and enjoy some quiet themselves. This past week, I felt like a bad mother because my husband was out of town, I dropped off our son to ECRE and took my daughter to the nursery. I could have kept her with me but with my stress level that day, I felt I really needed to be able to "listen" at mass. Afterward, I no longer felt like a bad mother, I felt refreshed and knew it had been the right decision. I plan on visiting this site often. I found it through Gasperiniville which I had found through Keeping the Faith. It is an inspiration and I thank you for it!