When I wrote about our struggle with whether to take our young children to Mass, I never expected such an overwhelming response. So many of you have been there – or are still there – and offered helpful advice and encouragement. I even felt a little ashamed that I haven’t been making more of an effort to expose our 2- and 4-year-olds to the Mass.
“Jesus wanted the children to come to him,” Jennifer Samuels O’Leary wrote on The Catholic Review’s Facebook page. “Why would I take mine away?”
“It may be simple and less complicated to go separately to church…but by going to Mass every week they will eventually learn how to behave in church,” said Lisa Vandenberg Gough. And I think she knows what she’s talking about. After all, her son is now a seminarian for the Archdiocese.
Paul Williamson and others offered advice on taking Biblical coloring pages and church-related books. And we had really had a beautiful Mass experience on Easter Sunday. So this morning, I decided to approach going to Mass the way we prepare for a trip to a restaurant or a 14-hour flight home from China – but without the Matchbox cars and junk food.
The boys and I picked out a few mostly religious books to take.
I also quickly drew some rather feeble pictures for them to color – a Nativity scene, a Noah’s ark, a priest, and a cross. Next week I may search for some on the computer and print them, but this was the best I could do this morning. Our boys were fine with them, though Leo might have preferred a bullet train and Daniel kept asking me to draw a Jeep.
And off we went to Mass. On the way, we told the boys that if they were quiet and good listeners during Mass, we would go to a playground afterward. I’m not sure that arrangement would win us any parenting awards, but our goal was to get through Mass without disrupting those around us – and also allowing us to pray a bit ourselves.
Not every moment was easy, but that is true of parenthood overall. And the boys really did make an effort to be still and quiet. We sat near the folk group so Daniel could watch the guitarists, and he greeted each of them with an enthusiastic “Hi!” when we arrived. A few times Leo reminded Daniel in a big brotherly whisper that he needed to be quiet if he wanted to go to the playground.
During our most peaceful moments, Leo colored while Daniel flipped through the books. Daniel insisted on making the Sign of the Cross all by himself, and he came fairly close. Leo and I sang the “Alleluia” together, and then he put his head on my shoulder as the priest read the Gospel. Suddenly, he bolted upright.
“Did he say Thomas?” he whispered, almost certainly thinking of a train with the same name.
“Yes,” I said. “He is talking about Saint Thomas.”
Leo stopped to think about this.
“Was Saint Thomas a bad guy?” he whispered. Apparently we need to talk a bit more about saints at home.
“No, he was a good guy,” I whispered back. “He was one of Jesus’ best friends.”
“Then why did Saint Thomas say he wants to put his finger in someone’s eye?”
I had to stop to think. And then I realized what he had heard and why it didn’t make any sense to our 4-year-old that someone would want to put his hand into someone’s side. I tried to explain briefly, and Leo seemed satisfied. I suspect we’ll be discussing it more later just as we have been trying to answer Leo’s question, “Why did people want to nail Jesus to the cross?” Why indeed?
At the end of Mass, John and I exchanged a look of relief. We were tired, but I felt good that we had shared our faith with our sons—and I was happy that I actually got to pray during Mass.
Just when I was thinking that our boys had been fairly well-behaved, a member of the folk group smiled and said, “Your boys are a distraction because they are so cute.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, relieved at how her sentence had ended. “I thought they might be distracting for other reasons.”
“No,” she said, “that’s just the age.”
The boys did earn their trip to the playground, and – as a surprise bonus – they each got a doughnut at a gathering after Mass.
For now we’ll keep trying to bring them more frequently and hope we aren’t disrupting others. We’ll try to keep the noise and squirming to a minimum and have faith that our boys’ behavior will improve as they get older and more accustomed to attending Mass. The cuteness? Well, if that’s what’s distracting our neighbors in the pews, our boys may just be troublemakers for a while.
But then, of course, so was that Saint Thomas.