Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It was something of a throw-away line, unplanned and in the end not especially important, but it came out of my mouth and has stayed with me since I said it last week. What can I say? Sometimes I listen my own homilies. Speaking about our sacramental life in light of the liturgical year, I mentioned that our parents, from the day of our baptism, take us to Mass, and those early years attending Mass with our families lay a foundation for the rest of our spiritual lives. Eventually, I said, we learn to sit still and be quiet during Mass. In the grand scheme of what I was trying to get at, not a very important sentence. But it rattled around in my head in the ensuing days, leading me to two main thoughts.
First, the fact that we eventually learn falls into the category of our natural development. We learn by experience, by habits formed in us, by things we read, and countless other ways. To learn how to behave in Mass is the fruit of our regular experience, which is reinforced later by the catechesis we receive. Most important, though, is that our parents bring us to Mass. The family is the first community we experience, and it is through our family that we experience the larger community that is the Church. It is in the family that we first experience what is often called the domestic Church. When our parents brought us to Mass, whether we were happy to go, or went kicking and screaming, or something in between, they were introducing us to the place we had in a community that went beyond the walls of our home. When our parents prayed with us at home, they brought something of the community of faith into the community of our family.
Second, the fact that we eventually learn is, I hope, a comforting thought. I cannot count the number of times a parent has apologized to me because their child was somewhat unruly during Mass. Having once been an unruly child at Mass myself, I can sympathize. Eventually we learn. But how do we learn? We learn most of all by being there, by the example of our parents, by their direction and teaching, by their consistency. Parents, if you are worried about the way your kids make noise, move, or otherwise might seem distracting during Mass, let me say this: I would rather have you attend Mass with a noisy kid (or several) than stay home because you are worried your child might misbehave. A thousand times over, I would take a crying baby or a fidgety child at Mass, if it means that a family comes to Mass together and a child is given a foundation in prayer that is supported by the twin pillars of the family and the Church community. It may sound overly-confident, but I like to believe that I can be louder than a baby. Maybe it is overly-confident. No matter, it has been written and so it must be. Parents, when you bring your children to Mass, you are giving them the most important lesson – that they are loved by God and that to worship God is a priority. Along the way, of course, don’t hesitate to teach them how to behave, and what is going on during Mass. Remind them that being quiet and sitting still is important. Tell them what is happening. And if they start to squirm or cry or need a break, it’s OK to get up and bring them to the back of the church. I encourage you to discipline your kids and help them learn what is appropriate at Mass, but I am under no illusions that it is easy, or that it happens overnight. I’m here for you in the work, in the battle, in the beauty of your practice of the faith. Many parents feel eyes on them when a child starts to make noise. I believe most of those eyes are sympathetic, and if they’re not sympathetic, who cares? You’re doing the most important thing, and a thousand times over, I would rather have you at Mass with a wild child than staying home. A thousand times a thousand times. Eventually, we learn to sit still and be quiet during Mass. Whether or not that lesson has been learned, you and your family belong when Mass is celebrated.
As you bring your family community into the Church community, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are countless great resources for families, for children of all ages, for parents. One great way to bring the Domestic Church and the Parish Church together more can be found at https://www.catholichom.com/. There, you’ll find suggestions for prayer practices you can use as a family and resources that will help you and the whole family grow in your relationship with God and with your church community. Eventually, we learn!