Friday, February 19, 2016
Response to the Well Intentioned Lady at Mass
I don't think we've ever been properly introduced, but I see you around at Mass frequently enough. My name is Karen and the toddler I often have at my side at daily Mass is Anthony. He'll be two in May.
My son really enjoys coming to Mass with me. Our church is really like a second home to him, he's that comfortable there! You see, he's grown up in this church. From the time he was six days old he's been at Mass nearly every day of his life. Typically I don't go to daily Mass on Saturday mornings since it's the only day of the week I ever get to sleep past 6:15am. But on weekdays you can find me, Anthony, and depending on the day any one of my three older daughters at the 8am Mass.
I want you to know that I'm very touched that so many of the people at daily Mass are so happy to have us around. People, who I worry I am bothering by bringing my son to Mass with me, come up to me before or after Mass all the time to tell me how happy they are to see and hear him each day and how he reminds them of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Did you know that the people who sit in the front of the left hand side of the church talk among themselves when they hear Anthony come in and start making sounds? Apparently they refer to him as "our baby." I didn't know that until recently. They've been referring to him as their baby since he was very small, I'm told. I actually think it's really sweet that they think of him that way.
One of the things I love about the people we attend daily Mass with is how loving and kind they are. I hope you've experienced some of the kindness and love that Anthony and I have. You, me and Anthony are all so blessed to have such great people who come together and pray with us at Mass each day. Don't you think?
I want you to know that I'm not oblivious to the sounds my children, especially the baby, make at Mass. Probably more than anyone else in the church, I, the one right next to the baby, cringe when he starts to make noise. If it's happy sounds or him singing I try to relax and not worry about it. His godfather likes to point out that Anthony is crying out to God his Father when he starts making noise at Mass. I suppose he's right. With only a few words in his vocabulary, I suppose he prays the only way he knows how. I can tell you that he knows how to make the sign of the cross. Have you ever noticed how cute a toddler is when he does that? Anyway, I digress. I know the noise can sometimes be unpleasant. But that is life. Life isn't always neat and tidy or quiet. When each of us comes to Mass we don't cease to live life for that half hour or hour that we are in the church. Those of us with years of practice and self control will obviously have a better handle on keeping still and quiet, but little ones have a hard time acting like adults, because that's not the nature of a small child.
I know you are bothered by the noise my son makes. I'm sorry for that, but I'd like to point out to you that none of us are perfect. Not me, not my son, not you, or even the priest who's offering Mass that day. I'm sure that each one of us does something that annoys someone else, and I bet a lot of us bother people at Mass, but you probably are unaware of it if you do because most people will recognize that the person who is doing something that annoys you is a beloved child of God, and that person has every right to be there worshipping God as just as you do.
You asked me to take my child to the crying room, which makes me think you are annoyed by the presence of a little child at Mass. I am sorry his sounds bother you, I really am. But let me tell you why I'm going to continue sitting right where I always sit at daily Mass. That spot, where we sit, right under the station of the cross that says "Jesus dies for us", reminds me day after day that I am broken and in need of a savior. But there's more. I sit where I do because should my son begin to make an excessive amount of noise, I can easily walk to the rear of the church and either stand outside the glass doors until he's calm or just stand next to the holy water inside the church and he's happy. I don't often leave the pew because I'm teaching my son that when we go to Mass we stay in our seat. We don't get up and walk around and take breaks. Raising little ones and teaching them how to behave is a tedious process that takes years. I don't know you, so I don't know if you ever had little ones or not. If you do have children then I suspect you know what a difficult, yet important job I have in guiding my child to become a good Catholic man someday. But I'd like to ask you if you've ever been to the crying room. Have you felt how icy cold the room is during the winter months and have you felt how swelteringly hot it is during the summer? It's not an inviting space. Also, did you know during the week that the crying room is empty? Going to daily Mass and sitting all alone in a cold room looking through hazy glass to see Mass going on down below is a great way to feel like you're not part of congregation, but rather a spectator. My family and I sit in the pews because we're raising our children, who are members of the church by virtue of their baptism every bit as much as you or I, to learn how to worship and adore their God at Mass. We've done the crying room with our eldest daughter and it was a disaster. The crying room is more like the circus room. There's no reverence and people act like they aren't even at Mass. It is not a place to teach your children how to behave at Mass.
Now maybe I'm reading something into your note. Perhaps you assumed that I didn't know there was a crying room and you've taken some inspiration from the banners listing the works of mercy behind the altar and decided that it would be a mercy for you to instruct the ignorant and inform me that our parish is equipped with one. Might I suggest in instances where you find yourself annoyed by my child or anyone else at Mass that you opt instead to bear wrongs patiently? Offer the annoyance up to Our Lord. Tell Him that you can't stand the sounds of the little baby that He loves and made in His image and likeness. Talk to Him and then listen to see what He says. I'm sorry, but I believe Our Lord is just as happy to see my baby in the church even on his most obnoxious screaming day, as He is to see you there when you are having a good day, a bad day, a day when you're just going through the motions, or even a day when you're angry with Him and can't understand why He placed whatever cross you're struggling with at that moment in your midst. He loves each of us in spite of ourselves.
If I misjudged the nature of your note, I'm sorry. I have a difficult time believing it was written with a charitable spirit, especially considering you dropped it at the place where we were sitting on your way back from communion as you left the church. And considering you didn't sign your name to it, I can't help but feel it was a bit passive aggressive. If you were that upset by the baby's sounds you could have stayed until the end of Mass and approached me to discuss it. I want you to know that you hurt my feelings and made me to feel like I was unwelcome. You are not the first person in recent memory to do this. But like her, I will treat you with kindness and I forgive you for hurting me. It may take me a bit of time to get over it, but I will. Just know that in the meantime I'll be praying for you. I pray that God will soften your heart. Perhaps you have some circumstance in your life that makes hearing the sounds of a baby happily singing bother you. I am sorry if the joyful noise of one of God's little ones upsets you, but I urge you to take it to Our Lord.
Going forward, please bear in mind that your actions and words, whether spoken or written, have the ability to hurt those around you. Your note, which thankfully I did not read until after Mass was over and after I had prayed for you, upset me so much that I left the church in tears. Those who encountered me on the way out were upset that anyone would do what you chose to do. Had you given me this note on a day when Anthony was exceptionally loud, I likely would not have been as upset as I was in receiving it today. I would like to point out to you that Anthony made no noise until the offertory. It wasn't until Fr. Pete called him out for not making the noises that he loves to hear, that Anthony made any noise. Prior to that my son was happily munching on Cheerios, which I bring to keep him quiet, and scribbling on a piece of paper.
So again, I'm sorry that the sounds of my child disturbed you. I suspect that you might be less bothered by his sounds and antics if you perhaps sat on the other side of the church where it appears to be quieter. We won't be offended if you choose to sit further away from us at Mass, just know that I plan to continue sitting in the same place, give or take a pew, for the foreseeable future. Somedays will be louder than others, I'm sure, but as always I will do my best to keep my child as quiet as I can. Unfortunately that free will that Our Lord endows each of us with kicks in at birth, so as much as I, too, would love to go to a Mass that is so quiet you can hear a pin drop, even I can't stop the baby from making noise. Know that I am right there with you in disliking noise during Mass, but when I hear a baby crying or a child loudly talking, instead of grabbing a pencil and paper to tell the mom where to go, I offer up a prayer for the child and the parent with him. It's rough being the parent of the kid who makes noise. People will turn and glare at you and occasionally someone will snap on your child inches from his face or leave a note that is the equivalent of saying: "Dear Mother, Your child is annoying and not welcome to sit with the rest of us. Please either go to the crying room or don't come here." It's not a fun place to be, but it's life. Can you just imagine if someone were to snap on the lady who reeks of perfume and tell her she should go sit outside so she doesn't bother people who can't handle the way she smells? How awful and tactless that would be! Or what if the man who says all the prayers too fast or too slow, or the woman who is singing her heart out to God and hitting every wrong note along the way were told they should go sit somewhere else if they can't say the responses with perfect timing or sing perfectly. That wouldn't be a Christian response at all and I imagine it would really hurt the person who was on the receiving end of such comments.
Finally, let me tell you why your note struck such a chord with me. It not so much because you hurt my feelings, which you certainly did, but it's because I worry that you have done or will do this to another parent. This is the sort of thing that may make a family decide that it's just not worth going to Mass anymore, or at least not while their child is still very young. Would you really want to be the catalyst that drives someone from the Church and perhaps places their soul and the souls of their children in peril? I wouldn't want that on my conscience at all. People will remember when they've been offended or treated unkindly so ask yourself before you act if what you are doing is being done out of your own selfish desires or out of a spirit of charity.