Every so often, I find myself at Mass without my kids. And it never fails to shock me that…I’m just as distracted without them as I am when they’re with me! I wrote this piece back in 2007, when I only had one toddler to my name and was the full-time parish secretary. This toddler came to work with me every day for the first four years of her life. I’m now 30 weeks pregnant with number 4 and I work from home, but the truth of this is no less evident to me now than it was then. Enjoy!
Last night, we took an eager aunt up on her offer and went to Mass without our toddler. You would think, wouldn’t you, that this would be a great way to go to Mass, to get a break, to be able at last to pay attention and reflect and pray?
For one thing, everyone inquired after her. “Is she OK?” they asked. “Where is she?” asked others. “Hey! Where’s that cutie?” still others asked.
She’s obviously missed by her parish family when she’s gone. (Dubbed the parish baby upon her birth, I guess this reaction should have been expected.) But we found, more importantly, that we missed her during Mass.
The people behind us did not have the distraction of smiles and giggles and pointing and blowing kisses. The choir didn’t have the extra voice she always adds. Father didn’t have any interjections to his homily (or, as is more common, to the consecration (“Wa-by” which means “Padre”). The other babies in the crowd were safe from “Hi Baby” exclamations and the people we know well were immune from her possible dashes away from us.
What made Mass lonely for me, though (and I think for my husband as well), was the lack of squirming and reaching and crawling. I longed for the small weight on my lap, and the dawning comprehension that she can “pray” too. I missed the arc of Cheerios, the scramble for books, the half-awareness I always keep of where she’s at and what she’s doing. It was too bad that I could pay full attention to the Mass, because I didn’t give near as much back to God as I think I would have if we’d had her with us.
You see, for as much as my daughter “takes” from me, she makes me a better person, and most especially a better Catholic. I can no sooner deny the small miracles in my life when I look at my daughter than I can deny her existence. The fact that she is here at all is proof of how God can change hearts of stone. So, during Mass, when she is with me to remind me of all of this, I think God gets a better act of contrition from me, and a better frame of mind altogether.
After Mass, one of our friends with two youngsters said, “Oh, I wish!” and we tried to assure her it wasn’t all you’d think it would be. I’ve heard other mothers (and fathers) bemoan the days long gone when Mass was a quiet, reflective time with God.
I have two replies to this, and I intend them with all charity.
First, sign up for Eucharistic Adoration! It’s an hour, all to yourself, with Jesus himself. And the silence…well, it’s pretty all-encompassing in my experience.
Second, I would like to revisit what Mass really is. It’s a giving back to God. So when you offer him your hectic, chaotic parenthood; when you give him back the blessings he has given you – just look around you! You will not be disappointed.
I hope never again to say, with longing in my voice, “Ahh, the days of a quiet Mass.” It is the noise that is my prayer; it is the wiggling that is my joy; it is the child who reminds me of my vocation.
(And in bemoaning a nonexistent quiet Mass, do we pressure those whose children are also there? Do we put pressure on them to keep their kids quiet? This is food for thought; something to reflect on as we talk to one another and encourage one another to have the courage to be Catholic!)
Besides, it won’t be very long before we will once again go to Mass without this toddler, because she will grow so fast. There will be a day when we, in fact, long for the days when she is small enough to sit in our laps, and interested enough to listen to our answers to her questions. She will be small for such a short time.