Taking young children to mass is usually like walking on tiptoe blindfolded through an uncleared minefield. Many years ago, when my wife and I were new parents, we entered another minefield: the “crying” room. During our first adventure in this uncharted country, we soon discovered why it was called the crying room. The chaos and decibel levels inside would have made a Vegas casino showroom look like a cloistered convent on a slow night.
New parents learn quickly, as we did after just one session in the mourning room: the best way to go to mass with little ones was to join everyone on the pews. If one of ours got too irritable, a designated walker would take the child to the back of the church or outside to avoid disturbing other worshipers who hadn’t paid a cover charge to be ” entertained” by our misbehaving children.
In a remarkably short time, our children grasped the idea that there were expectations and before we knew it, trips to the back of the church were a thing of the past. Then we blinked, and now we find ourselves grandparents to a 4-year-old living with us with his mom.
Taking our grandson to mass brought back some of those memories and created new ones as well. Being a grandparent is more fun than being a parent. We give our “new” little guy criminally significant leeway that we never thought we would give our own kids when they were his age.
Fortunately, he is a very sweet and happy little boy (although capable of blackouts when the moon is full). We’ve been taking him to mass since he was only two years old. We started with bribes, like cookies and a box of juice to keep him busy. He has since been weaned and now understands that we expect him to sit still all the time and not disturb those around us. Then there’s the nuclear option of suggesting that our after-mass breakfast at our favorite restaurant might be compromised by a certain person’s behavior.
He now witnesses the whole affair, minimizing his fuss with images of pancakes and waffles in his future. We realize that attending Mass doesn’t guarantee we’re helping raise a saint, but I’m old school enough to believe that enough Masses and Hail Marys can accomplish anything. But there are times when I think my grandson understands more than I give him credit for.
He can lead us into grace before meals, has the Ave Maria pretty well encased, and though he struggles with parts of it, he’s not far from mastering the Our Father. I tell him that the priest says special prayers that transform the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. It’s still a challenge for a sixty-something devotee, let alone someone who’s addicted to apple juice and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
Yet, a doubt entered my heart: Was I really doing my grandson any good by having him attend a liturgy that he cannot begin to understand? Then, a few weeks ago, I received a very clear message from head office.
I went up to Communion, taking the 4-year-old with me so the priest could offer him a blessing. As we walked back to our bench, my little guy pressed his nose close to my mouth and sniffled.
“Appa, I smell Jesus.”
I almost lost it. As the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving”, I really gave thanks that morning. As my mass partner’s mind flashed back to the time left before he went to get his waffle, I enjoyed a special moment of grace.
I don’t know now who is teaching who about faith, about what it means to accept Jesus as he is, rather than who I want him to be for my own self-interest. Like everything in the life of this precious little boy, his future is also in God’s hands. All I can do is love it as best I can, as long as God allows, and if in doubt, refer to the home office manual.
“Amen, I say to you, if you do not convert and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18: 3-4).