By Fr. Paul Clark
Fr. Mike Coleman was my pastor when I was a little child and he loves to tell the story of a time when my family visited him in a later assignment. When he had my family stand to introduce us to his new parish, I stuck the strings of my hoodie in my nose and started making faces at the congregation, in his words “humiliating my mother.” All I can do is laugh and think of the many times I probably humiliated my parents…especially at Mass. I was a pretty whiny child and loved instigating reactions out of my siblings. I can only imagine the chaos of our family pew each Sunday. Yet, for me, one of the main things I remember from my childhood experience of the Mass was my mother constantly saying “Look, there’s Jesus!”
I see now that was a creative way to say “Shut your mouth and focus,” and she gets major parent points for that, but I distinctly remember being intrigued by the statement. Even as a child, it was allowing me to process the reality of Christ’s presence. I trust my mom…and she says Jesus is here…so he must be. And although with that comes a lot of explanation (“No, I’m not talking about the priest…” “No, not just the image of him on the crucifix, Paul” and whatever other conversations it sparked), it also is the base concept of witnessing the faith: I believe because I trust the one who says it is so. My parents, without a doubt, were the first to witness to me the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, because over and over again, they told me it was true.
I bring this up, because both Fr. Dan and I want to say thank you to the parents who are bringing (and have brought in the past) their children to Mass. You are seen and it is greatly appreciated! It is not an easy task (we were 8 people sharing 1 bathroom growing up and it was NEVER easy to get us all to Mass), especially amid the protocols and fears of a pandemic. I imagine the stress of corralling our children in our worship space probably, at times, feels unbearable. I remember the Catholic Speaker, Katie Prejean McGrady, at the National Catholic Youth Conference last year compared taking her child to Mass with “wrangling a wet alligator who knows how to talk…with no volume control.” But then she followed that statement up by saying “but if the Church isn’t cryin’, it’s dyin’.”
I have been thinking of that quote a bunch the last few weeks as I’ve begun to notice an increase of children at Masses since the parish updated our policy on children attending (All parishioners aged 10 and older are required to wear a mask at all times. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to do so per the CDC) and are encouraging children to return. It has been so good to hear them! You see, during the suspension of the public celebration of Mass this spring, one of the most heartbreaking things for me as a priest was the absence of the sound of life.
My heart longed to hear the crying of children, the random questions from toddlers and even the continual singing…long after the songs had finished. brought forth praise.”
Those audible expressions from children are not only okay, they are good! Time and again we are told in Scripture the disposition we are to have in the presence of our Father…and it’s very child-like: free to express emotions to him, safely question and ponder what we’re experiencing, or simply rejoicing in the movements of our hearts.
Parents, thank you for your vocation and for raising your children in the faith. Know that you have the encouragement and support from your priests to bring your children to Mass, regardless of how distracting or disruptive you may think they are. Lucky for all of us, Christ’s sacrifice isn’t dependent on us perfectly focusing. The sound of children at Mass reminds us that the Church is alive and that we are people of life! May we be a parish that supports our families and encourages the sounds of life in our church, for as scripture says “from the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise.”