Monday, October 10, 2011

Okey-dokey, Let's Talk About Mass, Part II

Part I is here.

Last time, I mentioned a few other things I wanted to touch on. One of them was:

"Letting go of an ideal about what I should get out of Mass when I'm there with children."

When I first started exploring the Church and attending Mass, I went alone. Atticus didn't want to go, and Anne-with-an-e was not quite a year old. So I left her home with her daddy and went to Mass and RCIA by myself.

I fell in love with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a quiet, private, peaceful, prayerful atmosphere. I had time to meditate, and to listen. I had time to think. I had time to be.

I was later received into the Church and little by little things changed. I began to take Anne to Mass with me, because now I was raising a Catholic. Then we had Betsy. Suddenly I was raising two Catholics.

And, though I longed for us to be "one of those families" (the ones who are together at Mass), I had to admit that I loved the experience of worship without distractions.

But more and more often, I had company. I took my little girls with me, and finally, one year, Atticus agreed to go with me every Sunday in Lent. One of those times, when Anne was about four, and Betsy about 18 months old, we were at Mass and I hoped to be a glittering example of faith to my reluctant, "I'll never become a Catholic" husband. But I found myself getting impatient, annoyed and frustrated with my very active little children and with my husband, who didn't seem to notice their level of activity. I suddenly found myself tempted to impatience with the very thing I longed for with my whole being: my husband's conversion.

His conversion would translate into family togetherness at Mass, right? But, umm, it would mean this? Irritation, distraction, impatience, anger? It would sharpen my desire to be at Mass alone?

Wait, what?

I remember that realization and the way it gobsmacked me -- that my desire to become "one of those families, together at Mass" meant giving up my treasured spiritual experience of entering into the Mass alone. Just Jesus and me.

But it would also mean gaining a new way of experiencing the Mass: as a family. A loud, messy, imperfect, distracted, sometimes-frustrated family.

And so, as I grew into my role as a Catholic wife and mother, I grew into a new phase of what I expected to "gain" from the Mass. I approached it very differently. It was no longer about what I felt (though I'm not disparaging what I felt in my days of solo Mass attendance -- those feelings played a beautiful role in drawing me into the Church.) Mass was now also about my vocation. Being at Mass meant giving myself up to my role as a mom: teaching my children, forming them, whispering little instructions during our highest form of worship ("Look, honey, it's not bread anymore -- it's Jesus!") It was a sacrifice of sorts -- I gave up my quiet, meditative Mass in order to give myself to Jesus in a new way: as a mother.

I knew this sacrifice wouldn't last forever (or so I pep-talked myself on the toughest Sunday mornings). And it didn't.

Yesterday, as all three of my daughters sat and sang with the choir at Mass, I sat in the pew with Atticus and remembered that day so long ago when I realized I had to give up my contemplative Masses. I worried back then that I would lose something by entering into the messiness of the family at Mass.

But, as is true with all the sacrifices we make for God's sake, I learned that I didn't lose a thing. Jesus, in His boundless generosity, has given the Mass back to me a hundredfold, helping me to see it through the eyes of my daughters as they have grown up and into it over the years.

Exchanging magical, meditative Masses for distracted, messy ones was a gift I couldn't fully grasp when I initially resigned myself to it. Jesus has been there -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity -- in the Eucharist, at every Mass, at every age, and even at that daily Mass when a seemingly nice lady turned around to me and my then-very-bouncy preschoolers and said with pursed lips, "Oh, my, did we have red juice this morning?"

Ouch. Yeah, He was there. And He kept me going, no matter what I heard (or didn't hear) of the homily, no matter how many times I had to take a fussy child out, no matter how many readings I missed or moments of solitude I longed for. He was there for me.

So, hang in there, mommies and daddies of noisy little people. Distracted or not, you're at Mass, and you're not alone. Jesus is there.

And I'm there, wondering how my noisy little people changed so alarmingly quickly into something else. Sometimes I actually long for the red juice days.

So, let's pray for each other and we can all try to remember together that "what we get out of Mass" is the unspeakable privilege of Jesus.


Mary Kate said...

That was profoundly beautiful and spot on, Karen! I smell another book... ;-)

Colleen said...

Well said!

Melanie B said...

I was thinking about this today, Karen, as I got to go to Mass all on my own. The kids are all sick and Dom and I decided to split up and take turns going to Mass.

I kept thinking that I should be having some kind of wonderful contemplative experience without a big grabby baby in my arms and a toddler hanging off me and squirmy girls needing redirection and things being dropped that needed retrieving and fusses needing to be soothed; but really I was just as distracted by my own chattering thoughts as I always am. In fact perhaps a little more so. Almost as if having got used to the battle to pay attention I felt adrift without my customary counterweight. As if, too light and airy, I didn't have anything to pull against. Or maybe the absence of little ones to blame for my lack of attention only threw my poor mental discipline into stark contrast?

In any case, I didn't feel free, I felt lonely. I missed the heft of my Anthony and Dom's calm presence and the brightness of the girls and Ben's sweet solidness. There was a little wiggly boy sitting next to me who loudly prayed a Hail Mary as he knelt before Mass and who also chimed in loudly at the Our Father. Oh he really made me miss Bella.

I suppose there's a lesson in there somewhere, though I'm not sure what it is.

Karen Edmisten said...

Thanks, Mary Kate and Colleen.

Melanie, that's lovely. I think it speaks to the way we grow into our roles as moms, and how we sometimes need to have a taste of that "life before them" to grow in our appreciation for the gifts that are before our eyes.