Monday, 8 December 2008

Be careful what you wish for

A couple of days ago, I had the morning free unexpectedly and went to Mass with a friend. Hugh was a bit restless, so whenever he started protesting, I took him out into the narthex so that he would not disturb anyone. Afterwards, a rather sour-looking lady, aged about sixty I guessed, came up to me as she put on her gloves. "I'm going to stop coming to Mass," she said, "it's your children. They're just too much of a distraction. I come here to pray and there is just no point, is there? There is a special room you can all sit in." (the special room she was referring to is intended to settle children who are screaming blue murder not as a general dumping ground to keep children out of the way and a large notice on the door asks parents only to use it in an emergency).

At any other time, I would simply have told her to get lost if that was how she felt, but after two sleepless nights in a row, I was exhausted and at the end of my tether. Let's just say there was a scene and after a good deal of self-righteous muttering from her side and a fair amount of "I brought him out here precisely to keep him out of your way! What more do you want?!" from me, it became apparent that the situation was not going to resolve itself. "All right, all right," I said, because by this stage I was in tears and just wanted her to go away, "you don't have to stop coming to Mass because of my children. I won't bring them to daily Mass any more. OK?"

She gave a relieved smile. "Thank you. Good. Thanks." And she walked, still smiling, out of the door.

A group of parishioners who had heard the argument (I should think half of Guildford heard it) immediately gathered around, promising that they love to see children in church and that they knew how difficult it could be. They had all been there themselves when their own children were small. I was touched by how kind they all were and knew almost immediately after I had walked home that I would not stop bringing my children to Mass, but the incident bothered me all day.

I couldn't get over how evidently she resented the presence of children in church, even when she could clearly see me removing them when they became disruptive, and how pleased she was by the thought that she had got her own way. It set me thinking, 'but what would happen if you really did get what you claim to want? What if I and all mothers in my position, stop bringing our children to church because you cannot tolerate their intrusion into the selfish little world you have created for yourself? What will happen in twenty-five years or so when you are dying on some hospital bed and you call for a priest? You may find that there is no priest because among those troublesome little children you chased out of church years ago was a little boy who would have grown up to comfort you in your final hour. Be careful what you wish for, my friend, or you may have the misfortune to get what you want.


Jacob said...

Perhaps she has a guilty conscience about something...

Pray for that poor soul.

And be ready for the next confrontation when she comes to badger you about not keeping your word.

John said...

I tell people that I don't mind children acting up in church--church is life and children acting up is part of life. Besides, the cry of a child is more important than anything I am saying.

Fr John

The Guild Master said...

Amen to that. We took the decision a year ago to sit near the front of the church for Mass, rather than skulking guiltily near the back to avoid giving "offence". The children can then see what's going on, and the result? Less noise and wriggling. Members of our congregation are delighted to see young children there (the future of the Church, they correctly comment) and don't mind the odd bit of screaming from ours or others' young 'uns. Mind you, having been TLM outcasts for many years, I suspect the notion of the future of the Church is felt all the more keenly!

la mamma said...

Poor you. But don't stop going! There are no doubt many more days like that ahead too. The house of God is there for your children just as it is there for adults. Listen to the encouragement and don't let the other voices bother you. So many people (who don't dare take their children to Mass) have said to me, 'it's okay for you, your children behave in church'. Firstly, the younger ones don't and secondly, the older ones wouldn't if they hadn't had the experience of being there. Keep at it, girl!

The Cellarer said...

I'd have simply informed her that I was sorry to hear that she was not going to come to Mass anymore but that I would not be compromising the vows I made at the altar at my marriage and at the children's Baptism to do all I could to bring them up in the faith, which includes taking them to Mass. At that point the conversation would have ended. If she had pressed it, I would have invited her to take it up with the PP.

That's if I was in a reasonable mood. If she had provoked me enough or if I had been in a bad mood I'm afraid to say angry teacher mode would have been engaged and I probably would have let her have it in no uncertain terms...

I blocked in someone (as is normal at our sister parish car park) who wanted to get away early after communion. He was really rude to me as I put our three kids in the back. I was polite at first but he kept at it, so I'm afraid I was trying to get the kids in quick but I then just took it easy. Still moaning so I let him have it chapter and verse about leaving after communion (which our PP revisited only a couple of weeks later).

I just stopped short of the 'Judas also left early' line...

The Guild Master said...

Good point la mamma. The key is to keep taking them and letting them see good examples, even if only from their parents. Mass is not an option for Catholic families, it's an obligation. Unless it's part of the weft and weave of life (something one just does on Sundays and Holy Days), children will likely pick up a semi-detached approach to the Faith. We know a number of Catholic parents who don't take their younger children to Mass because they'll make a noise/cause a distraction etc. and we ask ourselves: well, at what stage do you start to take them?

Paul said...

We stopped going to our parish church precisely to get away from sour old prunes like that. My own inclination was to disregard them and keep going, but my wife had the wisdom to see that this might not be the best Mass-going experience for the children. Of course, we are in the position of not being particularly inconvenienced by going to the next parish along, where there's no such nonsense. It being a Salesian parish might have something to do with that.

I always have to wonder what people like that think Jesus meant by "Let the little children come to me". That it was with the silent reservation "As long as they're no trouble"?

I also wonder how may young families these people keep out of church - and how aware of this parish priests might be.

If I were in your position (having made what could be construed as a rash promise, or at least verbal concession), I'd talk to the parish priest about it. But perhaps I'm just prey to scruples.

Fiorella said...

Point taken, Paul, thanks. I will mention it to the parish priest. I should probably clarify that my rash promise (and I admit it was rash) was to stop bringing my children to weekday Mass rather than Sunday Mass, but the good lady may not have realised this and I am not sure how clear a distinction I made in the heat of the moment either. I am a little prey to scruples too. Sigh.

Paul said...

Our youngest actually behaves better at weekday Mass than on Sundays. Who can explain it?

torchofthefaith said...

Dear Fiorella

We've been away in Lourdes and so have missed the blog updates for several days.

So sorry to hear of this situation. This is very sad indeed. If only there were more families like yours in Church for Mass!

We will pray for you and your family as this has not been pleasant and we will pray for a change of heart for the lady in question.

Several years ago, I was rather unwell and managed to force myself to go and enter a near-empty church and sit down before the weekday Mass. A few minutes later a lady entered and exclaimed 'He's sitting in MY seat!!!' She then continued to grumble and bumble for some time to come. I came close to leaving but Grace must have kept me there! This was not a unique experience either sadly! In any case, we eventually ended up getting married in that parish! (Angie and I that is; not me and the lady in question I hasten to add!!!)

It can seem at times like the other extreme to the trite 'Everbody's Welcome' ideology.

Anyway, our prayers are with you and well done for being a mum who cares enough to take her children to Mass in the week.

In Christ
Alan and Angeline

Elizabeth said...

Oh dear. A similar thing happened in our parish too, and the PP told the moaner in no uncertain terms that HE could stop coming if he was going to hassle mothers.