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Editor’s Note: Finding Grace with Children at Mass

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As parents of young children in church, we’ve all been there: the squirming, the diving below the pews, the waving for attention of the adults behind us, the too-loud whispers to “Sit down and be quiet,” and “Listen to Father.” I confess that, as a mother of four children under age 8, I sometimes feel like I’m doing well just to make it through the Mass – and if I scrape a bit of wisdom from the homily and receive the Eucharist without having to haul someone out of church halfway through, then we call it a “win.”

But on a Sunday in early July, my eyes were opened to something quite beautiful. After strategically arranging our children in the pew to keep our two most outgoing personalities away from one another, we knelt for the liturgy of the Eucharist. In that moment, like I almost always do, I tucked my 5-year-old daughter under one arm, and my 4-year-old daughter under the other. In the past, I always thought this was the only way to keep them from squirming, escaping and disturbing other members of the faithful. But that day, God helped me pause, helped me see. For in that moment, as I was holding my children close to keep them out of trouble, trying to ignore their tiny elbows digging into my sides, I was also praying out loud while their little ears were nestled into my arms and neck, right where they could hear every word I was saying. There were no cell phones, no TVs, no screaming siblings to distract us from being present to one another in that time and place.

And in that secluded moment, my daughter felt comfortable enough to lean in and whisper, “Mom, what is that circle thing?” And though we talk about our faith at home, maybe this was an opportunity to help her 4-year-old mind connect the dots in a way that just talking about our faith couldn’t. “It’s Jesus, baby. He’s allowing us to take Jesus into our bodies.” Her eyes grew wide as she again whispered, “Is he in the wine, too?” I nodded. She smiled and said, “I love you, Mommy,” before nestling back into my side (elbows and all).

As I turned my eyes back to the altar, I noticed a family two rows in front of us gripping their children as they knelt in the same manner: trying to face the liturgy as smiling and wiggling little boys struggled under their tight embrace.

Understanding hit me like a bolt of lightning as the priest’s homily and the day’s readings flooded into my consciousness and took shape. “… as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” Isaiah 66:13-14.

And just like that, a moment that often leads to resentment (“Why can’t I just for once enjoy the Mass?”) turned instead to one of joy. Difficult, hard-earned joy? Sure. But, then again, Jesus manages to love us and bring us comfort and peace despite our own squirming and resistance.

Will there still be times that I have to get up and haul a difficult child or pair of children out of Mass? Most certainly. But I pray that, moving forward, when those battles arise that I may find even a small slice of grace and be reminded to open my heart and ears to what God is asking me to see.

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