[This is a guest post by Norine Shaivitz.]
"[Jesus] called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, 'Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.'" Matthew 18:2-3
I wonder if the child Jesus chose was perfectly quiet and still, after having just woken from sleeping in Heavenly peace.
He or she was probably not behaving like the over-tired toddler I took to Mass on Saint Patrick's Day. My little girl was having a hard time holding still and being quiet. The woman in the pew behind us thought my daughter could use a distraction so she offered a rosary, which my daughter sent airborne. Our eyes watched it sail through the air and land next to the altar with a “clack.”
This same little daughter at another Mass decided to make an escape during the Eucharistic prayer. She climbed on the pew behind me as I knelt, passed to the other side and out of the row. I grabbed her dress, but inertia was on her side, causing both of us to fall out of the pew on all fours right in the middle of the center aisle.
Such are the moments I want to hide under a rock and wonder why in the world I bother taking my children to Mass. By grace, it's extremely rare for us to miss Sunday Mass and we often come to daily Mass. Some people are welcoming and smile. Others whip around with disapproving looks to see who’s causing all the ruckus. It happened in Jesus’ time too. In Matthew 19:13, the parents brought the children to Jesus and the apostles rebuked them.
Some unkind words said to a mom at Saint Helen Catholic Church in Georgetown prompted a change for the entire parish. Father Brian McMaster said a mother made an appointment to tell him the story of how an older woman reproached her, saying, “You look like you have your hands full. You know there’s a cry room, don’t you?” The mother was devastated, feeling she and her children were unwelcome.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Matthew 18:10
Father Brian took the mother’s story to heart. Inspired by Pope Francis and the book Forming Intentional Disciples, he was already looking for ways to evangelize through hospitality. Leaders in the parish studied for a while and decided they would order out the chairs that filled the old “Cry Room” and order in several rocking chairs and cushy rugs. The new “Calming Room” is supposed to be used only temporarily, with the hope that a fussy child will calm down and can be welcomed back to the group.
“We want to encourage those people who made a transition from the single life to married life to life as a parent,” Father Brian said. “They can’t pray in that pious, attentive way anymore. We want to honor that the care of that child is part of worship. It seems like a struggle, but it is prayer and holiness being acted out right there.”
“We also wanted to consider the experience of the people around those with the children,” Father Brian said. “They want to have undistracted quiet and that is good. But we are also called to love one another. We don’t want to admonish people and say, ‘Why don’t you go to the cry room?’ We want to say instead, ‘How can I help?’ We are a family in this parish and we are all called to practice charity.”
Father Brian said he wants the message to be known throughout the parish that families are valued. They are wanted in the midst of the celebration, not shoved off to the side places. However, there are times when it’s appropriate for a child to be taken to the back for a bit.
“A parent can discern and say, ‘My child is not quiet. The crying isn’t stopping. I can take them out to calm down.’ And it’s not a defeat,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with going out to the back for a moment. We wanted to create a space for that to occur. But we put signs up in there that say this is not permanent. When your child is calm again, we want you to come back.”
Father Brian is not immune to distraction. “As a priest, I have a high tolerance,” he said. “There are some people who can really focus better and there are some people who can’t as well. For myself, I have a higher tolerance. If there is consistent crying, then it’s distracting, especially if I am in the middle of a homily and I have to concentrate more. I have to make a point for myself to pray for the child, pray for the parents and pray for the people around them to be charitable. Again, if a child is crying consistently, it’s okay to go to the back for a little bit. It’s not a defeat. It’s normal.”
[To read the rest of this story, please click over to Austin Catholic New Media.]