In Which I am Asked Not to Come to Mass . . . by a Priest

The husband knows an awesome priest who likes to say, "You should remember that when you pray for humility . . . God just might humiliate you."

I think he said it in reference to having tripped up on the altar, which I would do every day and twice on Sundays, rather than experience what I did this morning. But, hey, we don't always get to pick our own mortifications, right?

And I have been praying for humility, so, score one for me . . .

Even though a run-in with a Church Lady who chastised me about my baby's behavior in an adoration chapel is what inspired me to start writing this blog, I really have almost always felt very welcome with my young children at Masses all over the world.

We've had literally countless people come up to us and compliment the children's behavior and thank us for bringing them with us to Mass. I have felt that with our Mass Survival Strategies and our Parenting With Authority that I really did have a handle on getting my kids through Mass. Not just surviving, but really having a manageable if not even pleasant experience.

Now, I should mention that that baby from the first blog post is now a toddler and as I (perhaps too) frequently bring up here, he is a real piece of work. But, I'm mostly able to keep his noise down to a babble and when he gets much past that, I take him out.

I have kept an eye on all the back and forth on babies and young children in Mass, notably Fr. Ryan Erlenbush's

Crying children call to mind the mystery of the Mass

and Dr. Gregory Popcak's

The Contraceptive Sanctuary: Why you SHOULD Bring Baby to Church

and Meg Hunter-Kilmer's

Your Screaming Kids Are Distracting Me

but I mostly felt that this was a philosophical discussion, and I was confident that I had the right answers. I knew that if any more grumpy parishioners came up to me (but why would they? my kids are great) I would know just what to say.

I just wasn't expecting it to come from a priest.

I knew that this particular priest has given other mothers of young children a hard time in the past, to the point that my sister-in-law and her family, along with my husband's parents have switched to a neighboring parish for Sunday Mass, which has a glowing environment of welcome for families. It's a joy to be there. But for morning Mass, I tend to favor convenience and this parish is a quick and easy run from my in-law's house (where we're staying for the summer) and at a time which exactly allows me to get my big kids off to swim practice, load my two youngest into a single jogger (hey, we work with what we've got), run, attend Mass, stay for the Rosary, pick the kids up from swim and get them off to day camp, all by 10am. Whew.

So, I was taking what I could get, priest-wise. Hey, it's still the Mass. And even this particular curmudgeon complimented my little guy just weeks ago and said how happy he was that we sat up front. So, I pat myself on the back -- I thank you God that I am not like those other mothers with children who cannot be made to behave in Mass -- aaaaaaand crash and burn in three, two, one . . . .

So Frankie hasn't had a great couple of days, today was especially not great, and I had to take him out twice, which I did. I knelt in the side vestibule during the consecration, with the door to the church cracked open a bit so I could hear the consecration and keep an eye on both my crying 20 month old past the glass door outside and my sweet little four year old swinging her feet in the front pew. Not ideal, but I was trying my best.

Well, after Mass, the priest came up to me and informed me of the existence of the Church's cry room (if you stop hearing from me abruptly one day, please assume that I was arrested for systematically filling all cry rooms in the country with cement).

There was a good deal of back and forth. (Which was a big improvement for me, my response to the Church Lady the first time around had been basically to open and close my mouth like a fish -- not super effective.)

I calmly shared all my bullet points for why my child, even if he is not perfectly behaved, has a right to be at the Mass in whatever seat we choose: he's a baptized Catholic, this is how they learn, the Mass is for God's edification not man's, Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me."

And the priest calmly explained to me that he is very surprised at my extraordinary selfishness, I am wrong about everything, no one can pray unless there is silence, and he knows a lot more than I do about scripture.

He flat out told me that if I had any concern for others I would leave my baby home (alone? with a dog nanny a la Peter Pan? he didn't say) or just not come to Mass.

When I pushed him on it and asked if he really meant that if I wasn't willing to sit in the cry room I was not welcome in Mass, he back-pedaled a bit and said that I just wasn't to sit up front.

I left the church reeling (and also crying, stupid being pregnant).

I was prepared for this from another Church Lady and I was prepared to refute and, eventually if necessary, ignore her. Because, although I believe that courtesy to my fellow man is very, very important, I believe that it's even more important to raise a new generation of good Catholics. After all, those fifteen old ladies at every parish's daily Mass aren't going to last forever.

But I didn't get it from a Church Lady, I got it from a priest. A priest whose office deserves my respect even if his people skills, liturgical practices, and general worldview do not.

So, first step, of course, is to pray for him, which I will continue to do and I ask you to join me. But I also have to decide what to do.

My original plan was to show up to Mass early on Monday and take a poll of the regular attendees to see who wanted us there and who didn't. Next I thought about sitting in the cry room but taping a bunch of posters to the window with slogans like "We Are Not Second Class Catholics" and "Tell Father to Let Us Out of Here!" It's a really good thing I'm
married to my husband, you guys, or I probably would have done it.

Now that I've talked with my husband (and my friend Abby) I know that my choices are: Attend a different daily Mass which will be less convenient but will be welcoming to my family, or sit obediently in the back and attend the convenient Mass under protest. Because that priest is wrong, but it's his parish.

I really think there could be benefits for myself in pursuing either option.

If I stay and sit at the back, I will be practicing humility and obedience. Those are good things for me to practice.

If I attend a different Mass, I will be getting a more pleasant and welcoming and almost certainly more reverent experience, I will also be able to offer my being inconvenienced as a prayer.

Even though I should NOT have had to experience this, and I pray not one more mother ever will, I know that either option has the potential to help me to grow in my faith. But the other thing I'm going to do is keep bringing my children, no matter their ages, to Mass. And I'm going to pray that some of my sons and some of yours will have a vocation to the priesthood and become holy and welcoming and truly pro-life priests. Because THAT is what will solve this problem.

Update: Since the Cry Room issue seems to be of interest to a lot of commenters, I have given it it's own post AND LINK UP (my first one!). So, if you'd like to comment about cry rooms specifically, please head over here to Why I Would Like to Fill All Cry Rooms With Cement and comment or link up your own blog post.

Also, if you're wondering what I decided to do about daily Mass, you'll find the answer there.