Within the span of one minute I often hear: "hey Father from all the screaming babies I heard during Mass your parish has a great future, lots of life here!" and then the next person, "hey Father can you tell these parents to control their children?" Frankly I get whiplash.
To the latter statement I often think, "good luck with that. Did you ever try to control a squirrelly 3 year old or a 2 year old that is having a melt down?" The fact is that taking little children to Mass, which tends to be on the adult level is challenging and I admire the parents that do. At any given Mass a young child will decide to have a melt down, scream so loud they break the sound barrier or just decide that they need to talk as loud as the priest. Then there are those ones in diapers that will have a bowel movement that would make a horse jealous. And everyone around them knows it! So it goes with the baby human.
As far as I can see parents do their best to help shape their child's behavior in Church. But how can they do it if they don't ever bring their child to church to learn? Sometimes during Funerals people I don't know will come with their adolescent children and just by the way they act I can tell they have no idea how to act in public settings like a Church. Obviously they were never brought to Church as children. So while we offer childcare during Mass as an option it is an option and does not need to be a must.
Parents often tell me we live in a very child unfriendly culture. Show up at some places with three or four little ones and be prepared to get stares of shock or a scolding for not "controlling" your children. That should not happen in a Catholic Church. But sometimes now and then it does. And it often comes from those who are a little older and have raised their children already.
But rather than scolding a parent or telling them curtly to take the child to the back or even outside why not say something like: "I can see you are having a challenging time, can I help you?" Or maybe even, "You know my kids won't sit still either, here are some things I did that worked." I know that a lot of you who have raised your children have lots of tricks up you sleeve that a young parent could really learn from. You are often and untapped source of wisdom for the next generation, so share it with them.
And remember that young parent struggling with a cantankerous toddler or a colicky infant was probably you or your mother at some point. And maybe that young mother had a really crappy week or was stuck at home all week with two sick children and her husband was on a business trip and Sunday Mass was her only chance to be with other people and get a little peace. Or maybe she just doesn't know what she is doing and your kind advice and encouragement will be the difference between her going home depressed and frustrated or light and joyful.
When the great Irish writer James Joyce was asked to describe the Catholic Church, he quipped: "here comes everybody"! When you come to Mass in a typical Catholic Parish you get everybody, young and old, smart and not so smart, PhD's and plumbers, those who sing like angels and those like me that don't. And yet somehow it all works and we worship our God and we hear the Word and we receive the Sacrament.
Jesus founded the Church to continue His saving mission in the world. Is this the Church he wanted? Maybe, maybe not but it is the Church he got! I know a lot of us, myself included would like to tell the Lord he should rethink planning and development but we know better than to do that.
So next time you attend Mass in a Parish Church just remember "here comes everybody"!
Love, Fr. John B.BACK TO LIST