On Sunday morning, our family attended a new parish because we had an event to go to in the area, and we were also interested in seeing what this particular church community was like. We arrived a few minutes late but were ushered (by an usher) to the almost front row of the church. A couple of minutes after sitting down, Maria started her usual wriggling in an attempt to get out of my lap and onto the ground, and then started her usual wandering from the pew. She never goes more than a couple of feet away before turning back, so I usually let her roam as long as I don't think it will be a distraction to others. And then it happened: With a huge grin on her face, Maria started toddling towards the woman in the pew behind us, who had elevated her foot onto a chair in front of her and looked like she was probably in her early 60's. Instead of the usual smile that Maria usually elicits from other people, especially older folks, this woman said, "Uh-uh, don't even think about it, you go back now you hear." At first I thought she was joking, until I saw her face and realized that she was completely serious. Flustered, I picked up Maria to put her back in my lap, only to tap the chair on which the woman's foot was resting and elicit yet another comment, this time directed at me: "Come on now, that hurt. Ooooh, ouch." Feeling terribly ashamed and realizing that this wasn't going to work, I picked Maria up and went further back in the church to an area where some families were gathered. Again, Maria wriggled out of my arms and proceeded to give a big grin to a little girl and her mother. No luck this time either - the mother looked annoyed, and the little girl said, "Mommy, make her go away!" This was the last straw - I picked up my little girl and headed to the back of the church, where we stayed for the rest of Mass. All of the families gathered at the back were much friendlier, and it was fine, but an uncomfortable feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day. For the first time in my life, I had felt that we were unwelcome inside a church, and it was awful! Apparently my husband had a similar experience - he stayed in the pew with our son, and the woman reprimanded him several times during the remainder of the Mass. Not only that, but she ignored him when he tried to give her the sign of peace.
My second experience happened Monday morning at daily Mass. After communion, I went back to the cry room with Maria and saw my friend, who looked like she was about to cry. I asked her if she was alright, and she told me that she dropped the host - she receives the Eucharist on her tongue because she is holding her son, and it dropped this time. The Eucharistic minister picked up the host and placed it back on her tongue, and I'm sure that he followed the proper procedures from there, but my friend was very flustered and upset. She kept saying, "I shouldn't have come today, I should've just stayed home, this is terrible" and was obviously feeling quite guilty. I did my best to reassure her, but clearly there was nothing that I could say at that moment that would make her feel better.
So, what did I learn from the woman in the pew behind us on Sunday and my experience with my friend at daily Mass? Simply put, we are all imperfect and in need of God's grace!
The woman whom we met at Sunday Mass must be very unhappy. Perhaps something awful has happened in her life, perhaps she is in a great deal of pain because of an illness or injury, but whatever the case, she is currently unable to act charitably and her attitude has a negative effect on those around her. I pray that, by the grace of God, she will open her heart and allow God to transform and heal her soul.
My friend at daily Mass was distressed and frustrated with herself for something that she ultimately had no control over. Of course she didn't mean to drop the host, of course God wanted her at Mass, of course she shouldn't have stayed home. My friend is particularly sensitive about bringing her son to mass to begin with - she feels that her son is a distraction to others and that people look at her as if she shouldn't be bringing a young child with her to mass. I personally have never felt this way, but regardless, I know how she feels! As mothers, we face countless stressful situations throughout the day, but there is something about encountering these situations in public places that just makes them unbearable! The toddler throws a fit in the grocery store, the 4 year-old won't stop acting like a dinosaur during music class at CCD, or in my friend's case, the little boy won't stop wriggling in his mother's arms when it is time to receive the Eucharist. At times like these, we need God's grace to wash over us and bring peace to our hearts, and we need good friends to remind us that we are doing a good job, that kids will be kids, and that we should go drink a cup of tea and take a few minutes to recharge the batteries!
Saints Anne and Joachim, parents of Our Blessed Mother, pray for us!