Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lord, Have Mercy!

Over the past couple of days I have had two experiences that have caused me to reflect on human imperfection, God's abundant grace, and the absolute necessity of a strong support network for all of us as parents! Let me share my stories and then my reflections:

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!


Anne said...

Thanks for the positive reminder that things sometimes go wrong. We also let our small son (15 months) wander outside the pew during Mass (we often sit on the side by the windows and the heating vents for him) and have always had positive responses from those nearby. I don't like to take him to the back because it seems like the people back there (at least in our church) didn't actually mean to come. Some people with school aged kids don't even bother to try to come and sit in a pew, just idly stand in the vestibule while their kids roam around. Intellectually, it doesn't make any sense. I can understand that some people don't come to church, but if you make 90% of the physical effort (get dressed, get in the car, walk in, ...) why wouldn't you come the last 15 feet and sit and pay attention? It's either important or it's not.

Juris Mater said...

Kat, this is great, thank you! Grouchy older people are so unnerving especially with little children who are trying to learn good Mass behavior... we have one at a nearby parish and the first several times he looked around with fire in his eyes and told me, aloud during Mass, "What that little rascal needs is a whole lot more spanking", I was pretty beside myself. Now he's become somewhat of a role model, not because of his grouchy and uncharitable behavior, but because he assumes that kids are undisciplined and tells all parents that they need to do more spanking. HA! In most cases, he's probably right, especially around here where we live : ) The kids are so indulged. He's also told some of my friends they need to spank their children, and we (who consider ourselves pretty tough disciplinarians) always laughingly refer to the "olden but golden days" where the solution to disobedience was a good spanking. This crotchety old Mass-going gentleman represents discipline in the good ole days : ) Anyway, our spanking man seems much more harmless than that woman you encountered. Yikes.

Sorry, that's such a shallow comment after a very profound post Kat. I loved what you wrote here.

B-Mama said...

Kat, wonderful, love-filled words, as usual. I cherish the mercy you reveal in this post and cling to it as a mother with three unpredictable little ones.

I also pray for older members of our Church, who might be disgruntled because they can often be overlooked, run over by chasing children, or perhaps disregarded because they are no longer in the center of all that's happening. Our head priest made an effort months ago to bring attention to our need for great respect for the elderly in our parish, particularly by children going to and from mass. I didn't think this was a problem yet for our family until last Sunday when my kiddos, in pursuit of the parking lot, ran into an older woman on our way out of church. Thankfully she stopped and admired the boys and talked languidly about her own 6 children and 5 grandchildren. What a gem! But I know we were lucky!

Fitzhamilton said...

When I see couples with kids at mass being treated the way you describe, it always angers me.

There's a quote I've heard a few times that comes to mind, that I think pertains:

"Suffer ye not the little children to come unto me."

A healthy parish tolerates children, even if they're a bit disruptive. Some of my favorite parishes (all Eastern Rite or Orthodox, for some reason) have children moving around and making a little noise throughout the entire liturgy (Maybe not having pews is the differance?) And I love it.

You should never regret or be ashamed of having brought your children to mass. You belong with us.

Just know that I was the guy in the back praying for you. Keep bringing your family, and ignore the negativity.

Alex said...

B-mama, I think that you make a great point about awareness of the elderly's needs for affection and respect, and what is likely a very common feeling of their being slighted by the presence of children. It is a tightrope that we walk daily in our home, where our 6-month-old cohabitates with his 94-year-old great-grandfather. Whenever normally cheerful great-grandfather begins expressing gratuitous negativity--especially towards the baby--we have come to learn that he often is looking for some of the attention and affection that is so amply and easily focused on his great-grandson.

Julia A said...

This is straying a little from the point, but my life as a mom during mass became infinitely easier when I realized that the best response to a disapproving matron who was shooting daggers at me (and my child) with her eyes was a feeble smile and the line, "Would you pray for us right now?"

Somehow it helps all of us -- the tight-lipped ladies included -- get back on track as to why we're there.

Mary Alice said...

Julia, what a great response! It helps to have something to say. My husband has taken to saying "thank you" to any and all comments about our family size -- wow, you have your hands full -- thank you -- gosh, I hope you have a large income -- thank you -- the person is never offended by the response, and it keeps us from getting flustered trying to come up with one line to justify our worldview.

Praying for mass behavior really seems to help, I do this immediately on kneeling in the church, I ask the guardian angels to be with us. I know that in addition to helping them behave, I need help to keep my cool and not get too flustered if the kids misbehave.

I do think that there is an age -- 15 months until about 3 -- when kids have a very difficult time keeping still and quiet for on hour. Books, toys, or food at mass all seem to make it worse for us, there is more to drop, fight over or talk about! We just have to try to keep them quiet as long as possible and then be prepared to stand in the back or a cry room for some part of the time.

We have just re-entered that zone, Leo is shouting "hi" to everyone around him in mass -- cute for the first 15 seconds, but gets old fast!

In addition to respect for those around us, I try to keep in mind respect for the priest, as sympathetic as they might (hopefully) be, it must be very distracting to have lots of noise or wandering tots.

Catherine said...

Thanks for this post! We certainly can't control other's actions, only our own responses!