On a sunny Sunday in July of last year, I was trying out a new church by myself. Soldier Boy had just (two days earlier) left me at a brand new duty station for a year-long deployment. It was the first time in a month that Man Cub, at that age of 19 months, had been to church, due to lots of traveling and visiting family. We sat in the 3rd pew back from the Ambo (the pulpit for the non-Catholics out there), behind another family with a little boy whom I guessed was about Man Cub’s age. While I tried to sit toward the middle of the pew so we could eventually be blocked in at either end of the pew, nobody else sat in the pew with us.
After the start of the Mass, the toddler boys (my child and the boy in front of us) seemed to take cue and be quite rambunctious. Man Cub kept running toward me, and then running out of my reach quicker than I could grab him, and giggling at the little game he was playing. We got through the first 3 readings, and the priest got through 3 words of his homily (sermon, to non Catholics), before the priest stopped his homily, looked at us squarely in front of him, and said, “I cannot compete with them. They need to go.” He then waited and would not begin his homily again. The entire church sat in silence. When I realized my child was being asked to leave the church, I got up feeling embarrassed, incensed, grieving, and a few other emotions as well. To add insult to injury, the Priest added, “we do have a cry room” but neglected to indicate where it was located. It was our first time at this particular church, I didn’t know where the cry room was, I couldn’t find it at the back of the church, nor was I in any emotional state to continue with the Mass. I left in tears.
A day or so later, I reached out to the priest via e-mail, not only informing him of the extra circumstances we faced (the brand new church, not having been to church as we moved across an ocean and the country, and my husband and Man Cub’s Mass-battle-buddy being suddenly gone), I also informed the priest how disappointed I was that a man acting “in persona Christi,” or, “in the person of Christ” would offer a small child a seat further from the altar during the Mass. It was a stark contrast from the welcoming and embracing nature of the priests and chaplains I had experienced in our previous duty location. The response I got from this particular priest was not apologetic at all. He informed me that, since I was sitting so far forward, I couldn’t see we were a disruption to the entire congregation. And, had the ushers “been doing their job,” he wouldn’t have had to stop his homily. He then offered me a couple alternate Catholic churches in the area to attend, instead of his.
Needless to say, I took my complaints a little higher than this individual. As time went on, I developed a working relationship with this priest, but I could never quite reconcile my emotions with how I was treated and how I felt about that incident. Just typing it out has brought up all the pain, emotion, and anger again! And, I now am hesitant, with new priests in charge, to go back toward the front of the church in this area again – a shame because in Hawaii, we always sat up close (within the first 3 pews) so that my child had a clear view of the Eucharist and the Consecration. And the bells. Man Cub loves the bells. 🙂
Since that experience sensitized me to this issue, I have noticed almost-weekly posts on FB in various groups about how moms with little kids have been asked to leave Mass, remove their children to the “cry room,” or to put their children in the nursery. Some moms have even been advised, “Get a babysitter and leave your child at home.” That is astonishing to me!! And, disheartening!!
I agree if your child is crying or whining you should remove them until they are calm – but the key words are “until they are calm.” Then, bring them back!!!!! Why should adults be given all the benefits of the Mass and Eucharistic celebration, when our children are not – especially when we are called to have childlike faith and emulate our children’s faith?
That said, this morning I was reading yet another account of someone asked to remove their (quiet, color-book coloring) children from a service, and I was smacked upside the head – this is not the church talking!! This is not the Catholic, nor the Christian teaching!!
This is the way Satan is getting into the depths of the hearts of mothers with little children!!!!!!
He is good – I have been trying to figure out my circumstance for over a year now. I have family that has left the church because their little ones were not welcome at church. I know of friends who have left the Catholic Church specifically for other denominations after being told their children weren’t welcome at Mass. I have said for over a year, I am too stubborn to allow the actions of one priest to ruin my faith or my willingness to attend Mass with my child. In fact, it made me even more stubborn, as I felt there was another force trying to drive a wedge between my family and the Catholic Church.
I just didn’t recognize the full impact until today.
So, if you are a mother with a little one, who has been asked to remove yourself and your child/ren from Mass, I challenge you to recognize the moment for what it is and to resist it with all your spiritual strength. It is a moment where the Deceiver is scheming to drive you and your impressionable child from the sight of Jesus and God! As it says in Ephesians 6:11, this is a time where you must “[p]ut on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Pray for the community that disparages the noisy family and the person that is unwelcoming to small children. They are not bad people, they are the unwitting conduits. As Jesus said to the Holy Father in Luke 23:34, “. . . forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And pray also for all the parents facing the onslaught of unwelcome feelings resulting from their embrace of the gospel to “let the little children come to” the Heavenly Son (Matthew 19:14).
Most of all, pray that you will be strong enough to stand face-to-face with Satan’s attempt to distance you from the Lord, and say, “I will not be bullied or chased from the sight of Our Lord and His infinite love, presence, and mercy. I will not allow my children to be removed from His loving sight, either.”
From experience, I know this is easier said than done. And, if you decide to leave, then do so – but, make sure to come back. Or, find another church that is welcoming to your child.
What kept me going to Mass was my stubbornness and something deep inside that told me this was a test to try to get me to leave the Church. Thankfully, I could draw upon our chaplain’s wisdom in Hawaii, who would often reassure mothers like me after a particularly noisy Mass with the following statement.
“If you think the Holy Innocents are up in Heaven being quiet, listening, singing hymns, and whispering appropriately during worship, then you have another thing coming. Those Holy Littles are rolling their halos up and down the aisles, banging kneelers, and speaking in toddler-tones which are not usually whispers. And, God loves it all.”
(Note: In doctrine, “The Holy Innocents” are the children who were massacred as Herod searched for the Baby Jesus – they are held in His everlasting, loving presence.)
As parents, I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure our children have every chance to get as close to their heavenly counterparts every single chance we get!