Ever since T and I got married we have gone to Sunday mass more often than not. Even with babies and toddlers we both felt it was important to have them there. We would bring toys, books and snacks for them when they were younger and we had to occupy their time. We would remove them if they needed to leave for a bit, but even if they were squirmy we tried to keep them there. This is us teaching them our weekly tradition if you will. This isn’t the mindset of all young parents that attend a church. And that is ok. There is more than one right way to handle this chapter of life. We are blessed to have them now at an age where they can attend Sunday School or Children’s Liturgy of the Word most Sunday mornings. This allows T and I to truly listen to what is said and gives us time to reflect.
This past Sunday I felt like there were more children talking, squirming around us and possibly being escorted out, even Stella needed to go and get a Kleenex. Upon leaving mass we were handed the bulletin. I read the front page letter from the Director of Music & Liturgy, Aana Freihammer. It spoke to me and the thoughts I had of the children in mass that morning. It touched me so much that I reached out to Aana in hopes she would let me share her words. I am thankful she said yes. Please take the time to read them. As a parent, or anyone really, who notices the young children at church, these words are important. To the parents who struggle with their antsy little ones, hang in there! You will get to listen to the words again soon.
From the Desk of Aana Freihammer
April 22, 2018
A few years ago, I was directing a choir for a Sunday Mass. We were about to start the Eucharistic prayer, when a toddler found the light switch for the entire church and flipped it up
and down. After grandma found him, he raced to the altar, grabbed a pumpkin (revealing to the congregation that I had used fake pumpkins instead of real pumpkins, whoops!) and gingerly placed it on the presider chair. He headed back to the altar, while the altar servers shepherded him back to his grandma. Everyone laughed, and the grandma was beside herself with embarrassment. This
story is funny, but every time I recall the family, I get a twinge of disappointment, as I never saw this family at church again, I’m not sure if they ever came back. This is the cautionary tale of how easily we can influence anyone more deeply in the community at Mass or discourage them from ever praying with us again.
The liturgy that we attend every Sunday is a unique opportunity where faithful from all over the Bemidji area participate in the sacrifice of the Mass and receive the Eucharist. The faithful coming to Mass includes people from all walks of life, all ages and every ability. The communal nature of the parish needs every part of the flock. The young and old learn from each other. The walking help those who cannot walk, the seeing help the blind. These dynamics in a catholic community, like St. Philip’s, illustrate healthy parish family. We are all responsible for each other, for everyone in the community. We learn faith from each other, we learn to hope from one another, we learn about God from one another. “The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1877)
I do not want to over-romanticize community. Working with others is difficult and taxing. People are annoying, kids are naughty in church, the man next to you may seem a little strange. The communal nature of the church is imperfect, just like your imperfect family meals at home in which food is thrown on the floor, milk is spilled, or someone chews with their mouth open. It is tempting to wish we had a more perfect setting without crying babies, better behaved kids, holier people. The imperfect during Mass can distract us from the transcendent experience around us. Wishing that our liturgical prayer experiences were more perfect would completely miss the point – Christ is here to transform us, and we are not yet transformed, therefore our liturgies are going to be imperfect. “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. (Pope Francis).”
We can expect then, bringing humanity together to celebrate this liturgy together will be messy. Yes, we will strive to be better at praying the Mass better. Yes, we will strive to have our kids behave at Mass, but expect things to be hard, messy, noisy, complicated. We need to all keep showing up and staying in the transformative experience. Children, and adults will be distracted. Those who do not come to Church struggle with rituals that are foreign and overwhelming. Expect imperfection because none of us are holy yet, and if we judge too quickly we could discourage families from ever coming back to experience Mass with us again.
We belong at Mass, all of us, from those searching, to those full of faith. Even on your own journey, if you do not feel prepared to receive communion, you do not have to receive. Just come and pray with us anyway. Coming together for one hour, from all walks of life is the one of the core principles of our Catholic faith and the essential component to Sunday Mass. “The Church is not a community of perfect people, but of disciples on a journey, who follow the Lord because they know they are sinners and in need of his pardon. Thus, Christian life is a school of humility which opens us to grace.” Pope Francis