My husband is in the Army Reserve, which means that, coupled with his civilian work schedule, he is gone at least one weekend a month. So one weekend a month, I also prepare for battle: getting my kids dressed, out the door, and into a pew (or, let’s be honest, the floor) at church. With four kids ages 6 and under, I typically enter the vestibule late and out of breath. Our “normal pew,” the one off to the side of the altar but strategically near the bathrooms and in view of a statue of Mary holding an infant Jesus, is reserved for when I have my husband’s help with child-wrangling and potty breaks. On the days I fly solo, I perch my band of ruffians in the vestibule where I am willing to give them any amount of Goldfish crackers just to see us through the liturgy while trying to tell myself that just getting here was a victory. It’s an exhausting process that reminds me how grateful I am to have a partner to share the load.
However, a couple months ago, during one of these solo-trips to Mass, I was reminded of something else. An older man, an usher at my church, saw me standing in the back during Mass, one child on my hip, another unwillingly holding my hand. He approached to let me know there were seats available inside the church and that he could take me there. I smiled politely and thanked him but also shook my head and said, “I think we’re better in here.” His response was one I will never forget.
“These children are the most important members of our church,” he said. “They are our future, and they belong in there just as much as anybody else.”
He walked away, not pressing the issue further, but he left me with that thought, and it’s comforted me ever since. It was a reminder of belonging that I so desperately needed, and still do, in this season of tantrums and untied shoes, Goldfish crumbs, and dirty diapers. His words are ones I think back on anytime I feel frustrated with my kids, myself, or even God.
My beautiful, noisy, restless children with their messy hair and maple-syrup-stained shirts belong. I, despite my lack of patience, abundance of stubbornness, and inability to get anywhere on time, belong. Our little (or not-so-little) family is part of a bigger family, whose members can also be noisy and restless and stubborn and definitely not perfect, but we are all welcome.
In the past couple weeks, instead of keeping my head down, avoiding eye contact for fear of someone judging my kids’ behavior (or me because of it), I have kept my eyes and ears attuned to being welcomed at Mass. It hasn’t been too hard to find, either. It’s in the knowing smile of a veteran mom standing next to her teenagers as I pass by in the Communion line; it’s in the blessing my priest gives my children when I receive the Eucharist; it’s in the patience of an usher who holds out the offertory basket while my toddler insists on putting the envelope in just so; it’s there when a young man holds the door open for me and when my son high-fives another kid “Peace be with you!” The welcome is there. I only needed to look for it.
Our journey to church is not just something between me and my family or you and your family. It’s an event where we celebrate the Mass and receive the Eucharist together as an even bigger Catholic family. My kids may not realize it now, but they too are part of this communion of saints we reference in the Apostles’ Creed and I want them to feel that fellowship.
The trek to church during this season of my life is not always a joyous, easy one. But it is a worthwhile one whose value will only increase over time.