We don't really know each other, but I felt compelled to write you this letter after our brief post-Mass conversation last Sunday.
I'm sure you remember me: I'm the overhwlemed, un-showered, snack-spilling, toy-bringing, throw-up-wearing, paci-dropping ringmaster of the three-ring circus in the pew directly in front of you.
We're the reason folks miss the homily, the loud "Amen!" at the wrong time, the snotty handshake at the Sign of Peace, the distraction of nursing during the Consecration...and I could go on and on.
I'm not sure you knew this, but we're also something else: deeply self-conscious about the way we may be impacting the Mass experience of others.
I'm guessing it probably doesn't look this way, but every time one of our "supreme gifts of marriage" speaks too loudly, drops a hymnal, plays with the kneeler, or fills their diaper, we are completely embarrassed and terrified that it might be distracting others from their worship of Almighty God.
I'm realizing now that it must not look that way, because last Sunday you felt inspired by the Holy Spirit (I'm assuming) to let me know that I was handling the situation all wrong.
Didn't I know there was a crying room where I could let my children be as crazy as they want to be? Could I take the screaming baby outside next time? Why didn't I inform my children that they shouldn't be dancing in the pews during the Gospel? Don't I know people are trying to pray?!
I feel bad that I didn't have much of a response for you at the time you provided me with this helpful feedback. To be honest, I was so crushed by your comments that I didn't stand a chance of offering anything back other than, "I'm sorry."
On the way to our minivan, my mind started racing with all the things I wish that I would have said in reply.
I wish I would have told you how the dirty looks and critical comments about children make parents second-guess whether they should be bringing them to Mass.
I wish I would have reminded you about Mark 10, where the disciples rebuked parents for bringing their children to Jesus. I wish I would have asked you if you remembered Jesus' reaction:
"When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'"
He was indignant!
I wish I would have reminded you about Pope Paul VI's words in Gaudium Et Spes, where he reminds us all that,
"Children are really the supreme gift of marriage..."
The truth we all have to wrap our minds around is that one of the ways children are a supreme gift is precisely because of the reasons they are frustrating you (and me, by the way) at Mass. They distract us, annoy us, make it difficult for us to focus on our own priorities, and because of all that, they are working hard to turn us into saints.
I wish I would have let you know that my children annoying you at Mass may be exactly what God wanted for you, as a way to help you overcome self-centered thinking and become the saint God created you to be! I know that's what he's got my kids doing for me.
Lastly, I wish I would have reminded you that our Catholic faith is pro-life. And, as much as it can be inconvenient and difficult, annoying children and fussy babies are the beautiful result of those pro-life beliefs.
When I think of Jesus looking down at our parish, I have to image he gets a big smile across his face when he hears the priest's homily being interrupted by babbling, laughing, and screaming youngsters.
As I was getting dressed for this Sunday's Mass, I made sure to keep these responses at the forefront of my mind, finally ready to let you know what I really thought of your comments from the previous week.
And that's when it hit me.
What if you're not the cranky, old child hater that I think you are? What if your complaints about my family's behavior at Mass has absolutely nothing to do with us? What if there is a pain, much deeper than I could ever realize, that led you to stop me after Mass last week?
A quote from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians helps remind me to put a stop the "all about me" thinking,
"...humbly, regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out for not his own interests but [also] everyone for those of others."
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of deep suffering due to an experience of infertility?
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of sadness over a distant, unloving, or uninvolved spouse?
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of regret for not making Mass a priority for your children, who have now fallen away from the faith?
I'll admit that I didn't.
Instead, I let it be all about me. And, even worse, I let myself become consumed with thoughts of what I could have said to "put you in your place."
And so, if I'm going to suggest that God put an unruly, loud, and annoying family in front of you at Mass for the sake of turning you into a saint, I'm going to also have to acknowledge that he did the same for me by bringing you into my life.
It's up to me to decide if I'm going to take what he offers me through you and allow it to spoil my relationship with Him, or if I'm going to take it as an opportunity to say yes to Him and all that comes along with that.
It sure isn't easy, but I'm going with the latter.
I'm praying for you, and I'm asking you to pray for me too.
As you can see from the insanity in the pew in front of you, I need it.
Copyright 2015 Tommy Tighe
Photo: "Day 251: Life and the Living" by Quinn Dombrowski (2012) via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.
About the Author
Tommy is a Catholic husband, father of four boys, and the author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook (available now!).