Monday, June 15, 2015

Gethsemane; or, taking small children to Mass

You may have already noticed that my Summer Blogging Break has sort of begun a bit early.  I didn’t announce it ahead of time this time because I kept thinking all last week that surely I would get out there and blog one of those days.  But between the ongoing massive clean-out/delayed spring cleaning we’re still doing around here, a dentist appointment (that, sadly, revealed the need for another and really expensive one in the near future), and, most importantly, Hatchick’s 17th birthday on Friday, we’ve been kind of busy.

And it’s a good thing I didn’t officially say that I wouldn’t be blogging, because (wouldn’t you know it!) I have a couple of things to blog about this week.  Sometime in the next couple of days I’d like to talk about the resignations of a couple of bishops, but that may have to wait until after that upcoming dentist appointment.

In the meantime, I participated in a rather epic Facebook conversation yesterday, and I wanted to share just a bit of it here.

The original poster had shared that someone had hit--yes, hit--one of her young children at Mass. An older person, presumably frustrated with the child in some way, but not a relative or friend or anything like that, had simply hit the child.  The incident happened in Germany, but from the comment floodgates that opened up you’d think that crabby old people striking children at Mass was a clear and present danger to all Catholics everywhere.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be, and I want to be clear that it was absolutely wrong, uncalled-for and unacceptable for this lady to hit someone else’s kid and that I really do hope the original poster will discuss the matter with the pastor of the church in question. But it’s also probably not a good idea to punch the offender out, to cuss the offender out, or to draw a weapon (all of which were options mentioned by representatives of the League of Angry Catholic Moms (which would be an awesome group, come to think of it--perhaps some mom of toddlers should start one).

I have a feeling that this level of wrath comes from a real place. No, it’s not from a place where moms of toddlers fantasize about knocking out those mean elderly Catholics who turn around to give the Glare of Withering Scorn every time their child clinks a rosary through his chubby fingers. But...well, here’s what I said yesterday:

I think that some of the anger here from parents of young children is because so many of them (and I remember this too, even if it has been years) endure Gethsemane at every Mass (and not in a good way). Between the people insisting that your two-year-old ought to kneel perfectly still and silently for an hour and the people who frown that you’re bringing kids at all and the people who harrumph about how perfect their children were back in the day and the people who think that parents should do split shifts until the child’s wedding Mass--the Church can be a lonely, hostile, and terribly unwelcoming place for families who are blessed with many little ones (or even for families blessed with one!).

I see the irate, over-the-top venting about cops and whatnot as a reflection of what a damnably (I mean that) poor job we are doing of making churches welcoming for families with children. Meanwhile, down the road, the Protestant Mega-Church has a fully-staffed nursery and programs for the littles and plenty of smiles for families with kids. Is it any wonder so many Catholics end up throwing in the towel and heading to the mega-church?

Far, FAR too many older Catholics (not just elderly, btw, but old enough to have grown children) act like the Church is the first-class section of an airplane or a four-star restaurant or a ritzy country club or a museum full of priceless artifacts that for some reason are not encased in glass, etc.--and that children do NOT belong, not unless they are perfectly programmed little robots who will never squirm, squeal, or emit unfortunate bodily odors and/or secretions or, in fact, act like humans at all. There is something, and again I mean this literally, quite diabolical in this (as the original poster said).

I know it’s awful to quote one’s own self, but I hope you’ll forgive me for the sake of discussing these sorts of problems.  For as long as I’ve been blogging, it seems like you get a deep divide between, on the one hand, parents of young children who are trying their level best to bring their kids to Mass, to get them to behave to the level possible for their age and experience, to take them out of Mass for some quiet time or discipline etc. depending, again, on the child’s age and level of culpability for any disturbance he/she may be causing, to pray and worship as adult Catholics themselves to the extent possible, all of this done Sunday after Sunday in the hopes that they will be planting the seeds of faith firmly in their children’s souls and helping them to grow to be mature Catholics who continue in the practice of the faith--and, on the other hand, Catholics who don’t have children or whose children are long-since grown up who think that children don’t really belong at Mass and if they absolutely must be there, then the parents have an obligation to make sure the children are absolutely still and silent and unobtrusive and as invisible as possible.

Now, I tend to have more sympathy for the parents of young children.  I have known very few parents who will let their children be “out of control” at Mass for any length of time (barring some really unusual circumstances).  I have known a couple of sets of rather clueless parents who don’t seem to notice when their children have gone from “normal childish behavior” to “full-throated screaming and/or running around wildly” but those situations have usually been addressed quite kindly by a pastor or usher (or both).  I stress here that those experiences have been astonishingly rare; in my 46 years as a Catholic I can’t remember more than a couple of those incidents (though, to be fair, my memory of the first five years or so is quite fuzzy).

On the other hand, when I’ve gotten into conversations about this with older Catholics, many of them seem to remember a time in the past when babies knew how to sit still and behave at a two-hour High Mass in Latin from the time they were three weeks old, and two-year-olds never spoke in public unless spoken to and certainly never needed to bring a toy or a book to Mass, and all the problems today stem from lax and/or selfish parents who don’t care how many people their unfortunately numerous progeny disturb by their squeaky, wiggly, squeally presence (oh, but will you join our pro-life group?  We pray the rosary outside the abortion clinic every Tuesday at noon...).

There seems to be a huge disconnect among some (NB: not all) older Catholics.  They don’t seem to realize, for instance, that for many young families split Masses aren’t possible, because instead of six Sunday Masses between six a.m. and noon at a church within walking distance of the family home there are two Sunday Masses at the church a thirty minutes’ drive away, one at 9:30 that is over (God willing) by about 10:45 and the second at 11:00, which makes split Masses impossible unless somebody can go to the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass (but please don’t bring the children to that one, because everybody knows that the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass is the sole property of the over-65 crowd...).  They don’t seem to realize that parents can’t just “stay home with the children” unless one parent or the other is prepared to miss years of Sunday Masses.  They don’t seem to realize that the “Cry Room” isn’t a long-term solution if your goal is to get the children to be more civilized at Mass someday.  They don’t seem to realize that families of young children already face the ridicule and hostility of the world which doesn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t use birth control and would want more than two children...

...and when that ridicule and hostility happens to them at Mass, among their fellow Catholics, the people who are supposed to be as pro-life and pro-family and anti-contraception as they are: well, it really is Gethsemane.

Taking babies and small children to Mass is far from easy.  We make it harder when we frown and snarl and glare at people who come in with a gaggle of little ones.  We are breaking those young parents’ hearts a little bit at a time when we’re not assuring them that they’re really welcome, really, we like them, we want them there, we want their kids to come with them, yes, really, we’re not just saying it.  Because nobody is beating them up more than they are themselves on the Sundays when infant Ignatius screamed and had to be taken out three times and toddler Theophania found mommy’s lipstick and nobody noticed until she’d colored a hymn-book in Spunky Pink and four-year-old Felix announced loudly in the middle of the Roman Canon that he was going to have a Regrettable Accident if not immediately escorted to the facilities in the parish hall.  They already feel like they are Failing at Catholic Parenthood on those days, and the last thing they need is a self-righteous, eyebrow-raised glare from a Pharisee in the row ahead of them, whose deep and prayerful contemplation of the breakfast she was going to order at her favorite restaurant after Mass was interrupted by the children’s antics.


DJL said...

Dear Mrs. Mannning,
Thank you for saying all of that. I don't have small children anymore - mine are middle schoolers - but the pharisee/boomer wrath isn't just for the little ones. Just 2 weeks ago, my second daughter, who is 11, was on the altar serving for only the 3rd time. She was only supposed to be an observer as she had not had any training as of yet. But none of the other kids showed up so my T valiantly did the whole Mass, all by herself, and yes, with lots of mistakes in it.
As she came down from the altar afterwards, an old biddy took her aside and actually told he she did "a terrible job", was a distraction for that woman and had ruined the Mass for her!
I know. Deep, cleansing breaths.
Naturally, my daughter burst into tears and once I got her in the car, I marched back into the Church and told that woman off in front of God and everyone (which is EXACTLY what bullies like her need: some reality checking.) I told her she had no business speaking to my daughter and that if she couldn't concentrate at mass perhaps she should close her eyes, put her head down and pray a little harder because, "YOU NEED CONVERSION." I then turned on my heel and walked out.
It was MOST satisfying.
You know, I work for the Church. I lector. My kid is an altar server. I go to Confession, blah blah blah. And I guess maybe I need conversion too because when I am faced with those miserable boomers who have ruined everything, all I can think is my favorite line from Broadcast News, "Well, I certainly hope you die soon."
Cheers to you!

Agathonika said...

I honestly wonder if old people have always been so nasty and judgmental of young children and families or if there's something "special" about the current crop. Boomer entitlement maybe?

I don't know why but in Eastern parishes people seem to be a lot less tightly wound. I know it's not a regional thing because we go to Roman parishes around here sometimes too. But at the Eastern ones kids are more organically accepted as part of the congregation, it seems. Why is that? I honestly have no clue. I am a new Catholic and newer to the Eastern rites. But it's impossible not to notice the cultural difference. At my parish there are often more children than adults present. It's a comfortable, welcoming place for large families because it is reverent without being high pressure. Maybe because children are confirmed and commune from day one, that's my best guess. Everyone sees them as equally of value because they are all full communicating Catholics. It could be as simple as that. Another reason to favor infant communion then, in my book.

Red Cardigan said...

DJL, I’m so sorry to hear about that. People who are mean to children are not people I tend to like.

Agathonika, that’s an interesting observation! Perhaps an unintended consequence of delaying Confirmation and Communion for children in the west has been a tendency of adults to think they “deserve” a child-free Mass. But that’s just wrong!

John Henry said...

There are so few people under 60 in the churches in San Francisco (let alone a couple with four young kids) that all I ever hear from the elderly folks here is, "God bless you for bringing your beautiful children to Mass!" Of course, most of them are from Central America or the Philippines. Maybe the judgmental kid-hating thing is an American thing?