Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
We are exceptionally blessed as Catholics to belong to a Church that respects and cherishes all human life, from the moment of conception. Our Church is unabashedly and unmistakably pro-child and pro-life. In the Gospels, Christ Himself insisted that the children come to Him. Children are the future – the future of the world and, more importantly, the future of our Church. They will be our priests and , our monks and missionaries, our men and women who take Christ into the world. Raising them to know and love our beautiful Faith can be a daunting task at times – there are so many prayers and devotions to choose from, books to read, and catechism lessons to teach. But there is one most important and essential thing we must do as parents to guide our children in the Faith – we must take them to Mass.
This is often much, much easier said than done. But we have to teach them sometime, and we take them to Mass from the time they are babies, it will be normal to them. That doesn’t mean that they will be perfect by any stretch, but it’s a great way to introduce them to Christ and to the beauty of our Faith. It teaches them that “Mass is important to our family.” If we speak positively about our Sunday obligation, as something to look forward to rather than something to slog through, our eagerness to attend will be reflected in our children.
Most toddlers struggle with sitting still and quietly for an entire hour. THIS IS NORMAL. We should gently reinforce and redirect, distract and quiet, but we should remember that misbehavior does not reflect on ourselves or our parenting. Very young children are naturally curious and talkative, and while we should set the bar high for behavior at Mass, it’s also important to recognize their limitations. Taking them to the back for a few minutes or a strategic trip to the bathroom may be the key to making it to the end of Mass without tears. Bringing a few religious picture books can keep their hands and minds occupied during the homily. Quietly pointing out the statues, stained glass windows, and briefly explaining in a whisper what is happening can keep their attention. Also, practice makes perfect! If at all possible, taking children to a weekday Mass is a great way to reinforce quiet behavior during Mass. I’ve found in my experience that the more effort we make to go during the week, the more smoothly Sundays go.
Often, we are so distracted by caring for our children during Mass that we feel as though we aren’t getting anything out of it. On especially difficult days, we can take comfort in the fact that God made it plainly clear that he doesn’t want us to have 10 minutes of silent prayer after Communion today – He wanted us to grow a little bit in the virtues of patience and perseverance! One of the ways God challenges us is by giving us the opportunity to sacrifice something good. In making this sacrifice willingly, He will shower us with graces and help us grow in holiness. This is an especially edifying thought when we leave Mass and can’t even remember a word of the homily!
Don’t get discouraged! Sometimes after a particularly difficult Sunday, it’s tempting to want to avoid bringing the kids to Mass the next time. They don’t really understand, we couldn’t really pay attention, the person behind us was distracted, etc. But Jesus wants the children to come to Him. It is so pleasing to God to see all of His children there, and to see our family unified as we gather together to worship Him. And as a priest said to his congregation, “If you go into a church that does not have a crying baby, that church is in trouble. It has no future. So, let us thank God for crying babies.”
Thank God for the crying babies, the squirmy toddlers, and the chatty preschoolers. They are a beautiful sign that our Church is full of life!
Colleen is a lifelong Catholic who lives in Kansas City with her husband and three young children. She blogs regularly at www.catholicsistas.com