Mass with a Difficult Child

I knew it was going to be a bad evening as soon as I saw them.  The mom and her 3 ~ 4 year old came up the aisle.  She moved to the right, but he decided he wanted to go left.  They went left.

We’re in the parish hall, on folding chairs.  The small church is getting crowded, and the last remaining Mass there is the Saturday Vigil Mass.  Tonight and next weekend, it had been relocated to the parish hall as well – perhaps because of out-of-town holiday guests.

The mom and her son sat in the front row.  The procession started, and three altar servers (two were mine) and the priest came down the aisle and went up on the platform.  As the priest did the opening prayers, the little boy left his mother and crossed in front of the platform toward the right, teasing his mother: will you chase me, or won’t you?  How far can I go?  The mom stayed put, not wanting to make a scene, not wanting to interrupt the priest.  The priest finished the prayer and then said, “Aiden, go back to mommy.  Now!”

I died of embarrassment for her.

I’ve seen her before, at the daily Mass.  I had started to go on Fridays in the spring, and through the summer.  I wanted to keep it up, but haven’t been able to.  I think she has a younger child, and she likely attended Mass after dropping this one off at preschool.

Mom retrieved Aiden, and kept a firm grip on him for a bit.  But little children being little children, he was squirmy and heavy and restless and active.  She had her hands full.  At one point, he had to go to the bathroom.  The ladies’ room is on the right side.  That’s where I always sit, because I had to go there twice myself during Mass, with Mary.  Since she was on the left, and not wanting to cross during the readings, she went all the way down one side and up the other.  I’ve had to do that, too.  That’s why I always sit on the right.  After the potty break, they had to retrace their steps.

I watched her take him out the side door at least once.  My heart ached.  I’ve been right there, too many times.  Mary was some trouble tonight during Mass – the biggest problem was that she desperately wanted to fall asleep, and that just doesn’t work for us later on in the night.  She did some dancing in the side aisle, too.  And climbing on the folding chairs, and bumping the lady in front of us.  But it’s so different now.  Now, I have perspective.  Now, I have two (mostly) well behaved boys on the altar serving Mass.  Now I have two (mostly) well behaved girls sitting nicely in the pews (folding chairs).  Now I have a 6 year old, who sometimes can be difficult, but who is still 6, and not 3.

Nothing compares to a three year old boy.  Nothing.

The last straw was when I heard the flapping of little feet running up the right side aisle.  I should have known it was him, but I was actually more focused on praying right then.  Had I been paying attention (to what I should not have been paying attention to), I could have looked back, seen him far outpacing his mother and stopped him when he got to me.  Instead, he streaked past me, rounded the corner and crossed in front of the altar, just as the priest said, “… fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.” 

NOBODY did the response.  We were all so distracted by this little boy, who kept on running over to the left aisle and down, where a woman did stop him and engage him until his mother could get to him.  And she did exactly what most mothers would do at that point: she quit.  She scooped him up, got her purse and left. 

I almost chased after her.  Had I been on the left side for once.  Had I not had Mary and Peter to worry about.  I prayed so hard that she had only retreated, that she had gone to the back and that I would see her again during communion.  That I could give her a hug after Mass and tell her it was going to be OK, that she’s a good mom, that he will mature, eventually.

But she was gone.

And so I tell you, whoever is reading this and needs to hear it.  Don’t quit.  Retreat, yes.  Surrender, never.

I have spent countless hours in the backs of churches, in vestibules and hallways, even outside if the child was really noisy.  I have endured thousands of unkind looks, thoughtless words, and unhelpful suggestions.  I have had to leave Mass before it was even begun, and spend the entire time straining to hear what was gong on in an attempt to participate.  It is so easy to convince yourself that’s it’s not worth it.  What’s the point of going?  I heard nothing, you think.  My only prayer was that God would prevent me from murdering my child.  I committed all sorts of sins against charity while dealing with this tyrant.  Better to just go home and go to bed.

But God doesn’t expect miracles.  We are required to attend Mass and to participate to the best of our ability.  God knows what we can and cannot do.  God wants us to offer Him our obedience.  No prayer of ours, no matter how devoutly said, can equal an act of obedience, especially when that obedience requires supreme fortitude.

Don’t get me wrong.  The goal is to participate fully in the Mass.  The goal is to not be distracted by the antics of your little guy – or anyone else’s for that matter.  The goal is to have antic-free children.  We call them mature adults.  And don’t think I look down on families who choose to leave little ones in the nursery or at home instead of suffering through Mass.  I’m not demanding all mothers be super-heroic every Sunday.  But no matter what arrangements you have, at some point, you will be stuck with a difficult child during Mass.  And what will you do then?

I remember those days, sitting on the cold, hard floor of a vestibule, unable to hear what was going on, lamenting my situation, wanting just to leave, thinking it was not worth anything for me to be sitting there, pinning down my naughty little tot, getting angrier by the minute.  And there was one thought I clung to: I will not let this child deprive me of the Eucharist!  I needed those graces, more than anyone else in that church, I promise you.  And so I stayed.  I hunkered down, I waited for the communion hymn, I stole peeks through the door to see when the line was winding down, and I made my (often) grand entrance, rushing quickly down the aisle before my kid could even realize what was going on and start screaming about it.

Don’t give up.  It does get easier, generally by the time they’re 10.  God wants you, as you are.  Go to Him.  Receive the Eucharist.

And realize that there are probably many mothers right there who feel your pain and wish they could take it away, even just for that once.

DO the red, SAY the black

Most Fridays this Lent, we’ve gone down to the military chapel on post for a soup dinner and stations of the cross. Last night, we had friends over for dinner (corn chowder and fish sticks – high class gourmet) and then the dads did baby duty while the moms took the older children to church for a plenary indulgence triple: confession, stations, and Mass.

The Friday evening Mass at my church is a Novus Ordo Latin Mass. This was my first experience with any Latin Mass, but because it was Novus Ordo, I wasn’t completely lost. The Liturgy of the Word was entirely in English, and the order of the Mass was familiar. I’ve been studying Latin for a few years with my students, so I know some stuff (Pater Noster, Sanctus).

Nonetheless, I spent a good deal of time flipping around the missal trying to keep up. And my stuttering, struggling Latin was no match for the ladies to my right who rattled off prayers with fluent ease. I’m still completely intimidated by the thought of a TLM, but last night wasn’t too bad. I can project that after a handful of times, it would get to be much easier.

And my sympathies go out to any converts or visitors to the Mass who can’t make heads or tails of the English missal. Despite being a visual person, I think it might have been better if I had just closed the missal and prayerfully followed along instead of trying to vocally keep up.

The Absurdity of Religion

Father Jonathan takes on Bill Maher in this article.

If Christianity really taught that the man in the jungle who has never heard the name of Jesus is going to be damned forever to hell, I, too, would doubt.


If Christianity really taught that God created cancer, child abusers and earthquakes to torture his own children, I, too, would doubt.

Go, Father J!

More on Kitchen Madonnas

Several people asked where I got my Kitchen Madonna. My husband bought it for me for Christmas several years ago, and he likely found it at the local Catholic goods store.

Kasia pointed put that there are some on eBay. Just type Kitchen Madonna in the search box, and you’ll see some pretty ones.

Here‘s one at the Leaflet Missal that is similar to mine. They also sell this statue, which is quite nice.

I found some really beautiful alabaster statues on a marble base. They are so expensive, I won’t even bother with a link. This one, sold at EWTN, is pricey, too (not as expensive as the alabaster ones), but I think it’s gorgeous and somewhat reasonably priced. This would make a great gift, especially a group gift where everyone chips in $5 to get that special ministry leader a thank you present.

I found this cute clock for your kitschy kitchen. It’s only $3!

On the opposite extreme, if you are remodeling your kitchen and would like an interesting tile backsplash, this one is 30″ x 36″ and only $1,170. I’m sure by the time I ever get around to having a permanent home, I will have long forgotten about these hand-painted Portuguese tiles.

That’s all the time I have for browsing the internet. If anyone else provides a link in the com box, I’ll update this post. I know I’ve seen tons more in catalogs, including mine, I just don’t know where.

** Update: Elizabeth Marietti kindly sent the link to Discount Catholic Products which carries the exact Kitchen Madonna I have. They also have one in pewter and this pretty statue. Thanks, Elizabeth!

The Golden Rule

Yesterday we attended Mass at the chapel on post. It’s a relatively pretty chapel with lots of stained glass windows. I didn’t have a chance to observe what the windows depicted, and I am curious. The chapel is, by necessity, a non-denominational chapel, so permanent artwork like windows tends to be vaguely religious – for example, it may depict a soldier praying. All Catholic artwork is portable, so as to get the offending idols out of the area before the Protestant service. One thing I liked was that they brought in a tabernacle, where they placed the remaining host after Communion. But for the recessional, the priest removed the host and processed out of the chapel to place it in the permanent tabernacle wherever it is. There were three chapels at Fort Belvoir, and I’m not sure what they did at the two where the permanent chapel was not in the same building. I think they just shoved Jesus in the corner to deal with Him after Mass. At the third chapel, I think someone took the host out a side door and down the hall to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel immediately following Communion.

After Mass, the lady sitting in front of us turned and introduced herself since we were obviously new. I am very self-conscious about sticking out, but, even in a Catholic community, a family of seven plus is very noticeable. And for some reason I selected a flowery maternity dress that just made me feel very dowdy…one of those dresses that screamed Catholic Homeschool Mother. I mean no offense to those who wear flowery dresses, of course. I think it’s great that some women can pull off the look. I think it’s great that some women can live up to what that kind of look implies to me: healthy, homecooked meals; warm cookies served in the afternoon straight out of the oven; handmade dresses on the little girls with matching ribbons in their beautifully braided hair; a calm, nurturing demeanor. Not someone who maintains order by yelling at her kids and who is happy enough that her daughters’ faces are clean and their hair is somewhat combed.

The bulletin publishes how many people were in attendance at the previous week’s Mass. I don’t know how they count this. At Fort Belvoir, there were six Catholic Masses over the weekend and attendance generally was around 1500. Here, there are only two Masses (Saturday Vigil and Sunday morning). It’s summer break right now, so you can expect a lower attendance, of course. But they listed an attendance of 210. So, when my family comes and swells the ranks by 3 1/2 %, it’s a small wonder people notice us.

But you know it’s time to go to confession when the offertory hymn inspires feelings of guilt. The Gospel was about the Good Samaritan, a story heard many times, a parable I think I can confidently say I understand and heed. I help people in need. There have been times I couldn’t afford it, there were many times it was inconvenient, but I do this to the best of my ability.

The priest’s homily echoed the message, and I proudly reminded myself of some specific occasions where I had checked this block. I am your good and faithful servant, Lord.

Then came the offertory hymn, one I hadn’t heard in a long while: Whatsoever You Do.

When I was hungry, you gave me to eat.
When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink.
Now enter into the home of my Father.
When I was homeless, you opened your door.
When I was naked, you gave me your coat.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

Cool, I thought. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty: go to Heaven. I am so there. Again, images of specific acts of charity were recalled, and I was in danger of getting a bruise from patting myself on the back. But the refrain:

Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.

Gotcha! taunted the little demon in my ear. Everything you do, you do to Jesus. Everything. Sure, buying a cheeseburger for a homeless man is like buying a cheeseburger for Jesus. I’m sure Jesus is right happy with that. But let’s go back to square one:

If the Child Jesus were tugging at my pant leg begging to be picked up, how would I treat Him? It doesn’t matter if my back aches and the thought of stooping down makes me cringe and I’m in the middle of making dinner. If it were the Child Jesus, would I ignore Him?

If the Child Jesus left his dirty clothes all over the bathroom floor, again, would I yell at Him, again, to pick them up or would I find a more polite way to request the same thing? He may be God, but he is still a child. And children, and most adults too, need to be told more than once to do something.

And speaking of adults needing to be told more than once to do something, if the Child Jesus requested a snack or something to drink, would I jump up right away, or would I tell Him to wait a minute while I finished my blog entry? And perhaps if the Child Jesus needed to wait in order to learn that He was not the Center of the Universe (ok, so He is, but the rest of us mere mortals are not), would I commit myself to getting up in the promised five minutes, or would I forget and need to be reminded?

If Jesus were the checkout clerk at the grocery store, would I be any nicer or happier to see Him?

If Jesus were the driver of that slow-moving vehicle, would I be any more patient?

It is so easy to think of all the good I’ve done and feel that I’m following the Golden Rule. But I can’t honestly say that I’m treating others the way I wish to be treated if I can’t honestly say that I would treat Jesus the same way I treat every person I encounter, including my own family.

Oh Lord, please judge me against an unholy nation.

The Lord’s Day

It just doesn’t feel like Sunday. Bill left early this morning to fly to Alaska for the week – his last TDY trip with this job – and we went to Mass yesterday afternoon.

Usually around this time most Sunday mornings, I’m telling Fritz to comb his hair, yelling at Billy for still being in his pajamas, wondering how long Jenny will keep the pony-tail in her hair, cursing myself for not braiding Katie’s hair last night before bed as I struggle to remove the knots, asking Bill to find Petey’s shoes (I think I saw them in the laundry room…??), yelling at Billy again for not getting dressed, sending Fritz to help Jenny find her sandals, debating Cheerios or no Cheerios for Pete, book or no book for Pete, matchbox car or no matchbox car for Pete, getting the check and some quarters for the kids, shouting “Saddle Up!” which everyone understands to mean “Get in the car and buckle up NOW!”, and running upstairs to maybe put some lip gloss on while Bill buckles the younger ones up.

Instead, I’m typing at the computer, ignoring the announcement that Pete is stinky, and well aware that none of my kids are out of their PJs yet and only half have been fed. I even took a 20 minute nap after my shower while waiting for Pete to get up. If I didn’t just have to put two of them in separate time-outs for “accidentally” kicking someone twice in the span of ninety seconds (both the kicker and the kickee are being punished – why would you put your face in the vicinity of someone’s foot after that individual just kicked you in the back?), I might be convinced that Saturday evening Mass was the way to go all the time.

But then again, probably not. Despite the chaos of getting out the door, I really prefer to begin my Sunday mornings with Mass. Otherwise, it just seems like another ordinary day.


Interesting. I’ve been following threads of information about the wearing of headcoverings (or not) for women in church for some time now. For my generation, headcoverings were never the norm, except possibly for old women who dressed oddly (to a young person’s eyes) anyway. But more and more I’m seeing literature that basically says it is immoral for women to go uncovered in church. I’m not one to appreciate being accused of immoral behavior, and I feel compelled to investigate further. That article does nothing to clear the waters. Are headcoverings simply a matter of fashion/custom? Or was this “change” just another bad reform of the 60s?

Personally, I’m wondering how old I have to be before I can wear a babushka. Bill seems to think I have to wait until he’s dead.

Updated to add this photo of a babushka. That’s the look I’m going for when I’m older. Classic style is never out of fashion.

Updated again to explain where I’m going with this. There was a time when Catholics, generally, would never use birth control. Although Church teaching has never wavered regarding its immorality, many Catholics today don’t think twice about using it.

If I were to attend a church where the custom was to wear a headcovering, I would have no problem wearing one. I’m just having difficulty figuring out if this is truly a local custom (when in Rome) thing, or if, like birth control, its use (or not) has been dictated by secular forces rather than theological ones.

Updated, once again to include the link to canon lawyer Edward J. Peters’ posting about this issue. Thank you, Denise, for bringing that to my attention.

I think I’ve come full circle on this. When attending certain churches, particularly outdoor Masses in vacation areas, the clothing is often very casual, even khaki shorts are “dressy,” and I tend to dress similarly. When attending other churches and most people wear their Sunday best every Sunday, I make an attempt to follow suit. In other words, I don’t have certain clothes that I wear on Sunday no matter what anyone else is doing, although I really would have difficulty wearing shorts to church unless it were a Mass at a camp or other truly rustic locale.

My current parish has very few women wearing headcoverings of any kind. Those who do are generally wearing flamboyant red hats. If every woman in the church wore a flamboyant red hat, I might be persuaded to wear a hat. But it wouldn’t be red. And it wouldn’t be flamboyant. If every woman in the church were wearing a black mantilla, I might wear a black mantilla. Or I might wear the very pretty blue Afghani headscarf Bill bought me instead. But I would cover my head.

I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of modesty and submission which seems to be tied to the custom. But if it is not an obligation to wear one, then I don’t feel the need to stand apart from other women in a church and make that public statement.

Forgive, or Forget?

In the not too distant past, I forgave a transgression against me. Or so I thought.

It was a whopper of a transgression, and yet the magnitude of the crime made it that much easier to be relatively calm and charitable about the whole event. It’s all those pesky little sins to which we hold tight because we can wrap our fingers around them: a hurtful comment, a thoughtless gesture, even an impersonal traffic violation on the part of a stranger can fire us up all day long. But if someone does some egregious thing and especially if they somehow manage to be defensive about the situation whether from embarrassment or from affected ignorance of how terribly their actions have hurt you, it is too difficult to carry that burden of anger. It is simpler to just forgive their sin and move on. Or so I thought.

Well over a decade ago, a very silly close relative of mine did a youthfully foolish and illegal thing. She used my name and social security number to obtain credit at local department stores, where she then racked up a load of debt. I was mad and didn’t want to have much to do with her for some time. I let the police handle the situation, and I trudged away with shoulders sagging from the weight of resentment and shock.

Two years later, I was getting married. This relative had repented and changed. I thought about the rest of my life, straining hard to see into the far distant future. I thought about the anger and the difficulties in dragging that baggage with me everywhere I went as I had been for two years. I decided I didn’t want to maintain a strained relationship, and so I included her in my wedding. Everyone lauded me my generous act, and the relative was very grateful. But I knew two things. One: it is not very heroic to decide to stop expending your own personal energy in a negative way. Two: choosing to forgive does not bring instantaneous healing.

In fact, the first step in choosing to forgive seemed to be choosing to forget. I could will myself to not view this person as a thief. I could will myself to focus on her positive behavior and characteristics. I could will myself to act polite and charitable and even pleasant. But our relationship was not what it had been before the whole sordid affair. Charity is one thing; actually liking someone is quite another. That part took quite some time. Naturally, the process was speeded by a willful desire on both our parts to make it so. And thank God for these miracles, since she’s now my best friend.

Fast forward to last year and this other situation and this other person who did something even worse. I knew, from experience, that the anger wasn’t worth the effort. And so I forgave her. Or so I thought.

In the last week, an email prayer chain from my old parish has included this person in the list for serious health reasons. My reaction has been less than kind, I must confess. It’s not that I wish ill upon her; it’s more that smug satisfaction that comes from thinking what goes around comes around. Perhaps if she were a bit more right with God, bad luck would not constantly darken her skies with storm clouds. Perhaps these health issues “conveniently” come at a time when she needs extra sympathy and generosity from her latest scam victim.

Awful. Plain awful.

These thoughts are so shockingly uncharitable that I have been forced to really look at myself and how I have personally handled the situation in my heart. Obviously, I have not forgiven her. Obviously, I have not even taken that first step of forgetting the transgression – of thinking of her in a charitable way. Instead, I took a step in the opposite direction and forgot the sin by putting it and her completely out of my mind. No, I haven’t been burdened with anger and resentment, because I have opted to pretend that it never happened.

Pray for your enemies. Not pray that they treat you better or that their lives improve so that your own life will improve, but rather pray for their health and their well-being for their own sake. Since she is not a close relative and wasn’t even a close friend, I don’t think that the sort of healing that I sought in my other situation is necessary. But if we are to share in the Kingdom, I will have to spend all of eternity with her, right? I hope that by praying for her health, I can take the first step toward a truer forgiveness and possibly be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer without shame.

“…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The Saints Meme

Tagged by SFO Mom.

List four favorite saints, two favorite blessed, and a person who you think should be a saint.


St. John Neumann: I feel that through his intercession, a miracle of healing occurred with my son Fritz.

St. Apollonia: patron of tooth problems, I also feel that her prayers aided in Fritz’s healing and his on-going dental issues.

St. Therese of Lisieux: her “little way” is hard and steep, but I feel it most closely matches the challenges faced by stay-at-home moms.

St. George: since we recently celebrated his feast day, he’s on my mind right now.


Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: of course. How can I not be inspired by a saint I grew up admiring?

Blessed Charles de Foucauld: I saw someone else had listed him, too. His apparent lack of success in converting Muslims and his death at their hands despite their friendship inspires me to have faith that whatever work I do will eventually bear fruit even if I do not see the results myself.

A person I think should be a saint:

Pope John Paul II.

Kids, religion and behavior

There is no shocker in this news article title: Study: Religion is Good For Kids.

According to surveys of parents and teachers, the most well-adjusted and well-behaved children have parents who agree on religion and attend services regularly (which I assume means closer to once-a-week than every-Christmas-and-Easter).

The study did not address which denominations had the best behaved kids, but I can guess that Bible Baptist parents have the most polite kids with lots of “Yes, Ma’am”s and “No, Sir”s. I hope nobody spends a lot of money doing a survey to conclude what is pretty obvious from free observation.

Buried at the very bottom of the article was one huge caveat:

It’s also possible that the correlation between religion and child development is the other way around, he said. In other words, instead of religion having a positive effect on youth, maybe the parents of only the best behaved children feel comfortable in a religious congregation.

“There are certain expectations about children’s behavior within a religious context, particularly within religious worship services,” he said. These expectations might frustrate parents, he said, and make congregational worship “a less viable option if they feel their kids are really poorly behaved.”

Yes, I suppose it’s possible that organized religion is driving away all those bad kids. You know, on the one hand they’ll preach that you’ll go to hell if you don’t come to church, but on the other hand they’ll tell you that your brat isn’t welcome there. I could see that, sure. Because limiting access to Heaven and making it a private club is really what it’s all about! (But that’s okay: I’m in! I’m in!)

Yes, I’m sure it’s because churches make bad kids feel unwelcome that inspires parents of good children to suddenly start going to church for no reason whatsoever. I’m sure the behavior correlation has little to do with a parent’s sense of right and wrong, the teaching of consequences for our behavior and personal responsibility for our actions, and the emphasis on treating others as we wish to be treated out of love and honor for God (and not just because we happen to be in a good mood at the time).

But if this is the case, then there are a whole lot of parents who aren’t getting the message. Just stand in the back or the vestibule during any Catholic Mass and you’ll see lots of frustrated parents with poorly behaved children. That’s where you’ll find me!