I was talking to some couples preparing for Marriage last week, and I pointed out to them that when their children arrive, they will need to be prepared for some very difficult challenges. Those of you who have been through the stage of having little children to look after, or are going through it now, will know what I mean! These challenges include lack of sleep, of course! A young mother I know asked her sleeping husband the other day to take their baby and put him back into the Crib. Imagine her surprise when this half-asleep young man picked up a pillow and gently treated it as if it were the baby! Most women would not have been as kind as she was, letting him go back to sleep and doing it herself! I suspect she may get more brutal as time progresses!
There are many other challenges, of course, but one of the toughest for Christian parents, is the challenge of bringing their children to Mass. They have promised to do this, both at their Marriage and at the Baptism of the baby – to bring children up “in the practice of the faith”; but many parents just find this too hard, and soon give up the attempt, especially as the little baby becomes an independent and rather noisy toddler. Indeed, it can mark the point where they give up coming to Mass at all, and it is therefore terribly terribly important that all of us do all we can to support and help them at this time.
Today in our Gospel (Mark 10:35-45) Jesus tells us that “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant.” But it is amazing how many people who are very happy to help and support people, to be the servants of others, outside church, do not want to do this during Mass. No, they seem to think that the Mass is put on for them, that it is meant to be a quiet time of reflection and prayer, and when children make a noise, they are just irritated by the disturbance and sometimes even let their irritation show! They seem to forget that in doing so they are driving away the very people who are the future of the Church. They are ignoring the teaching of Christ “Let the little children come to me..for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
I was sharing this with my fellow priests the other day, and they all said they had the same problem, of people complaining about noisy children. All of us found we gave similar answers. “Do not come to Sunday Mass expecting quiet prayer and reflection.” Sunday Mass is the Mass of the whole community where we offer ourselves to God together. If you cannot, by sitting nearer the front, by concentrating on your inner stillness, find quiet prayer on a Sunday, then come to a weekday Mass, or a time of Adoration as well, and find your quiet there. Indeed we recommend a weekday Mass, or a time of prayer in some Church somewhere, as an extra to everyone. It is amazing how some busy working people can find time to pop into a church near their place of work, whilst some retired people with much more time, find they are too busy!
The Church teaches that parents, with their little children, are what we call “the domestic church”. Their service of sacrificial love for their children, of teaching them to love Jesus and be part of his Church, is one of the most important aspects of the life of the Church; and all of us are called to help them in any way we can. Remember that the parents are not trying to keep their children quiet in church so that you and I can have an undisturbed Mass! No! Gradually, and sometimes very painfully, they are trying to teach their children to take part in the Mass, to join in the prayers. Sometimes this means taking them out for a bit to calm down, and parents have a tough job getting that right. Take them out too quickly and they soon get the idea that if they are noisy they get taken out to play and so they become even more noisy! It is a hard choice.
So what do the rest of us have to do in order to serve these children as Jesus tells us to? Well first, we have to set an example. We have to be still, to concentrate on our prayers, however much noise is going on around us. It is equally difficult for the parents if we start waving at the children or pulling funny faces, as it is to look or show irritation. Some of you are wonderful at going and talking to the parents and the children after Mass, and showing them how welcome they are, encouraging them to keep coming, however hard it is. For some of us it may be just a smile and a greeting as we pass by. Little acts of service like this are so so important for the parents in their amazingly tiring work, and we must never neglect our opportunity to support them in some way. Remember from the Gospel today how James and John seek heavenly glory, and are told that the only way to get this is to follow the way of Jesus in service and sacrifice. That is what we are all called to do in many different ways. So let’s do it.!