Last week, a sweet mother, who clearly needs some encouragement and support, left this anonymous comment on one of my old posts, Pro-Life Means Pro-Child:
Glad to know even mothers of children raised in a catholic church have their moments. I am still pretty resentful that my husband chose to become
catholic and force me to wrangle my 4 children into sitting through
mass, when they are used to having sunday school and children's church
in their protestant upbringing. They used to love church and now they
pretty much hate it. My question is HOW IN THE WORLD!!!!! is a "good
catholic" mother ever supposed to enjoy/listen/worship during mass? I
just have more and more hatred and frustration. Would much rather stay
home than fight the fight and have my children feel chastised for
wiggling and not paying attention like adults.
I started responding in the combox, but the response was so long that it started to look like a blog post. So it became one.
To my anonymous reader, and any other mother who feels similarly exhausted and discouraged:
First, I have to let you know that I'm so impressed that even though it frustrates you, you're willing to go to Mass to support your husband and what he knows to be true. Big virtual high-five for that!
Now, believe me when I say that all mothers, whether their children are raised in the Church, in some other church, or no church at all, have their moments. And by "moments" I mean that every single week, on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, and frequently on the weekdays thereafter, I read updates and stories from mothers who wrangled their children during Mass. About embarrassment and frustration and a desire for a time machine to get them real quick to the kinds of days that they imagined before their real children came along- the days of prayerful offspring with hands folded, proclaiming the Nicene Creed, then smiling politely at the sweet parishioners in front of them offering the sign of peace. But no time machine do they get. What they get is sliding off of pews and demands for donuts halfway through the second reading.
So then your question becomes "How is a good Catholic mother supposed to enjoy/listen/worship during Mass?" And the short answer seems to be this: maybe she doesn't.
We've become so accustomed to the goal of every activity in this world being "enjoyment" that we get frustrated and angry when we can't find the fun in what we're doing, especially if it's something we're told we have to do. Incidentally, I feel the same way about laundry and the dishes and, well, pretty much every other dull, tedious homemaking task I'm expected to do. "You mean I have to do this all the time? And keep doing it? And it keeps sucking? Wow. Goody.". The attitude problem- I'm working on it. I swear.
But the goal of Mass isn't to enjoy ourselves, but rather to be in full communion with Jesus Christ. The central element, the most wonderful, glorious thing, the only thing
that REALLY matters, is the Eucharist. Receiving the body and blood of
Jesus and being in communion with Him. That's THE THING. That's the joy. All the rest
is just details. So for the few years that they're small, maybe we
don't really get to enjoy or even listen much during the rest of the service,
but we know we get to receive Jesus and we know that in bringing our children, we're performing our vocation, carrying out the duty we've been called to do, even though that duty is
sometimes exhausting and difficult. And because we're sanctified
through challenges and suffering, those challenges and that suffering
are Good even though they're not enjoyable.
As for the wiggling and not paying attention like adults, my gut says "don't worry about it! They're not adults so they shouldn't be expected to act like them!" I know, I know...if you have grouchy mcgrouchersons giving you the death glare, it can be super hard to take that advice to heart. But seriously, if they're very little, let them bring books and quiet toys. They don't have to pay attention or sit perfectly still. With the standing and sitting and kneeling and walking up to receive communion, and then walking back to the pew plus one carefully timed potty break somewhere in there as well (I recommend just before the consecration, but that's just me and my rule-lovin' ways to have it planned like that), we all just find a way to make it through, taking it minute by minute.
And of course, there will be days that they've seemed to have lost their ever loving minds and you'll be at the back of the church or outside the church or chasing a rambunctious toddler through the parking lot of the church because he escaped out the front doors after knocking over a stack of pamphlets in the entryway and you'll be mumbling choice things under your breath that you hope your wholesome co-parishioners never hear.
But while they're inside, they hear the words and see the motions and know that the Lord and the Faith are important enough to be doing this every week and eventually they learn. At about 3, they start putting the money into the collection basket. At about 4 or 5, they start giving the sign of peace and kneeling on the kneelers. And then suddenly they're 6 or 7 and they know how to read so they're following along in the missalette. They're reading the songs and singing along and they're not even climbing on you anymore. And suddenly they're participating in the whole Mass!
When you're in that dark tunnel of sticky hands on your cheeks while bony knees climb over your calves as you kneel, it's so hard to imagine all of this, it really is. Even when only one or two are small and the rest are big, it's still sometimes hard to imagine. But then one day your older ones will be holding the hands of your younger ones as they pray the Our Father together, and there will be no snacks and no sippy cups and no snot on the shoulder of the one shirt you could find that was neither stained nor bore an image of a parrot wearing enormous sunglasses, and you'll realize you did it. You survived!
And along the way you'll have taught four other very important people about Christ's sacrifice, His love for us, and instilled in them the most important habit of their entire lives.
Hang in there, mama. We're all in this together.