In the Gospels, Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.”
A few weeks ago, I muttered this to myself at Mass: “Get those noisy kids away from me. Can’t you see I’m trying to be holy?!”
Hmm, I wonder who got it right, me or Jesus?
In my defense, the two toddlers in the pew in front of me were very rambunctious: chatty, fidgety, and fixated on crumpling up pages in the missalettes. Also, I have a tough time concentrating as it is, and when there are a lot of distractions, it’s very hard for me to focus and pray.
However, in reply to my defense, I suspect Jesus might say this to me: “Oh, and you weren’t rambunctious when you were a kid, Bill? And when your children were young, they never made a sound at Mass? And what’s this about distractions and prayer, coming from a guy who is surrounded constantly by TVs, radios, iPads, computers and smart phones? All of a sudden having total peace and quiet is really important to you? You could’ve fooled me. Are you sure you want to stick with that story, Bill?”
Umm, yeah. Sorry, Lord. Guilty as charged.
Instead of being totally self-centered and focusing only on how the toddlers were interrupting my usual Mass routine, I should have been joyful about the fact they were in church at all. I mean, who has been lamenting for the past 10 years about the drop in Mass attendance? Who has been writing and talking about the fact young adults are leaving the Church in droves? Right, it’s been me.
Is Mass supposed to be as quiet as a morgue, with only senior citizens who don’t make a peep? Sadly, way too many of our Masses are just like that, since so many young adults and their children do not attend anymore.
Instead of gritting my teeth and grumbling that my regular routine was being interrupted, I should have smiled at the young mother who was desperately trying to keep her kids quiet, and whispered to her, “No problem. Thanks so much for bringing them to Mass.”
But instead, I scowled. I grumbled. I rolled my eyes and wished I had gone to the earlier Mass, which, come to think of it, often is similar to a morgue with only a handful of seniors in attendance, many of whom are dozing. I wonder if that young mother picked up on my negative vibes. I wonder if that particular Mass was her last straw, and afterward she made the decision not to attend Mass anymore because of the nasty looks she received, especially from that grumpy guy in the pew right behind her. Oh Jesus, please forgive me.
Now that my conscience has been thoroughly convicted, let’s examine a couple of important points regarding this episode. First, the sacredness and supernatural miracle of every Mass is not diminished at all if there happens to be fidgety and noisy children in the pews. Jesus still becomes present in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul, and divinity—even if we are somewhat distracted. And if our quiet prayer time is disturbed, there still are 23 other hours in the day when we can pray, and maybe if a certain person shuts off his electronic gizmos, he can concentrate even though he’s not at church.
Second, if we honestly consider that popular expression, “What would Jesus do?” the answer is pretty clear: He would be delighted that toddlers, however noisy, are in a holy place, and He probably would stop what He’s doing to spend some time playing with the little tykes.
So, if Jesus can handle noisy kids in the pews, then all of us, especially me, should be able to handle it, too. I hope that mom and her kids are at Mass next Sunday. But first I think I’d better go to Confession.