Suffer the little children

October 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog

In Matthew 19:14, the Lord says to His meddlesome disciples, “Sufferthelittlechildren, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.”

This verse came to mind as I read these interesting and insightful comments by a Catholic blogger named Amy, a “20-something” mother of two. Seems she was party to a spat in the back of a Catholic Church recently, in which an older woman was vehemently rebuking a younger woman for permitting the noisy distraction the latter’s young children caused the former during Mass. The young mom, God bless her, stuck up for herself and for her buckaroos, and Amy found herself drawn into the squabble, coming down on Young Mom’s side. I believe I would have done the same, had I been there.

Yes, I can relate to Young Mom and to Amy. But I have to admit that I can also see where Older Woman is coming from and can sympathize with her exasperated reaction to the commotion during Mass. People on each side of this hot-button issue need to be charitable and understanding toward each other.

As the father of a large family myself (picture taken in 2007), I know from experience how, at times, kids can be awfully irritating to those around them with their noise and fidgeting and such during Mass. And although all my children are now either adults or well on their way to being so, I have a great sympathy for young families who are just starting out and learning (hopefully, they are learning) how to control and shush their children when they need to.

A few times, though not very many, as I remember, Nancy and I have been on the receiving end of some cranky remarks and pinch-mouthed scowls from older pew-mates who were irked because one or more of our kids made noise during Mass. It happens. Comes with the territory. Get used to it.

But in truth, I must admit that I also have some sympathy for the cranky scowlmouths who are irked by unduly noisy kids at Mass. Even so, they are greatly in need of practicing patience and forbearance toward those noisy families who, whether through neglect or simply being overwhelmed do not do enough to keep the kiddos in line.

There’s room for improvement on both sides of the divide.

On a personal note, our family attends an absolutely wonderful, traditional, Dominican-run, parish — one of the very best parishes in the country, I’m convinced. After having cris-crossed the U.S. and Canada for about 25 years now, speaking at Catholic parishes by the hundreds, probably over a thousand of them by now, I have seen the best of the best and even a few of the worst of the worst, and everything in between. (Thankfully, the parishes that have me in to speak are heavily skewed toward the far end of the good side of the good/bad meter).

At our excellent parish, there are a lot of families who have a lot of kids. I’m talking counter-cultural-to-the-2nd-power lot of kids. Many of these fine and devout Catholics are adept at the art of swiftly rising from the pew and hustling a talkative, crying, screaming, or otherwise disruptive child out of Mass and out into a hallway.

This is good and pleasing in my sight.

But there are some parents, not many, who don’t seem to have learned a lesson of basic courtesy that I believe should be mandatory as part of all pre-Cana and Engaged Encounter preparations, and that is: 
“Thou Shalt Not Irritate Everyone in the Church to the Point of Distraction By Allowing Your Disruptive Child(ren) to Remain in the Pew and Make Everyone Else Miserable Simply Because YOU WILL NOT DO THE RIGHT THING ANDGET UP AND TAKE THE CHILD OUT OF CHURCH BEFORE PEOPLE’S HEADS START EXPLODING.”

Parents must understand that by allowing their child(ren) to make loud noise during Mass they commit a minor injustice against everyone else, who want to pay attention without easily avoidable, unnecessary distractions. Plus, it is very bad form. And it’s inconsiderate. How I do wish that our pastor would direct the lectors to make one additional announcement before Mass, right after they announce that everyone should immediately turn off his cell phone before Mass starts. Just add this: Parents, if your children get fussy and noisy, please, out of charity for those around you during Mass, take your children outside until they settle down.”

I think that’s reasonable, don’t you? And if this were routinely done in Catholic parishes, while never neglecting to welcome, embrace, encourage, and support large and rambunctious Catholic families (like mine) — they are an important part of the future of the Church, after all — the scowlers wouldn’t be so pinch-mouthed, the young parents of fidgety kids wouldn’t feel so put upon, and nice ladies like Amy would be able to pray their post-Mass thanksgiving prayers in peace without being drawn into squabbles like the one she described.