We file in as a family this past Sunday – the six of us with our extended family to boot – all in the front row and I’m feeling the calm, sure blessing of us all shoulder to shoulder preparing our hearts to encounter Jesus. The youngest in our brood is six and everyone looks surprisingly buttoned up. A young couple arrives hurriedly in and takes the pew behind us.
The young couple has a babe in arms and a toddler. The sweet baby boy’s low, guttural cries erupt intermittently. Throughout the mass the young mom does her best to keep him happy. At times she leaves her pew shuffling to the back to stand by the exit. All the while her two-year-old gal makes feisty, repetitive tapping noises. By the time we reach the sign of peace, the sweet mom just greets me with a gushing: “I’m so sorry!” By the end of mass her baby boy is sleeping; heaving in a peaceful, gentle rhythm.
After mass she remarks: “We love seeing your family – it is so encouraging, you seem so happy together.” I remind her that it’s once a week that we all shower on the same morning. I explain that we actually live a vibrant, not-so-linear series of cross-to-resurrection paradox moments under our roof. Happy, oh yes we are. Perfect, far from it. We are as needy as her babe in arms. I admit that attending mass has become a rhythm that is less chaotic over the years. I recall how humbling and exasperating our best efforts were in those early days.
I recall how after a few years of “suffering our little children to come unto Jesus” I began to realize with more clarity why we did just that. We had come back from the rail one Sunday and I was trying to equip my then six-year-old with a directive so I could pray. I told him to rest on the shoulder of Jesus and listen. A few minutes later, he poked me with a desperate whisper and said: “Jesus, is talking to me, Jesus wants to know where all the other little boys like me are. Why do people forget to bring their kids to Jesus…every week?” His eyes were teary, searching my face. Then he put his head in his hands and muffled out an emotional refrain of gratitude several years in the making: “Thank you for bringing me to Jesus, Mommy!”
So that’s just it; it is worth every effort, every embarrassment, every unplanned disruption and the infinite nudges given to encourage the littlest to stay focused and quiet. Because, really, what could be better than bringing your child to Jesus in heavenly real-time? There is nothing like the Eucharistic presence of the mass – every soul, no matter the age, longs for this profound, direct encounter.
My cries are less guttural than the babe in arms behind me at church but my need for an encounter is not so different. Am I happy to say, we, as a family, were peaceful on Sunday; Yes and Amen. But I daresay it’s the stuff of miracles that this gathering at the rail is our place of constant rhythm. The mass has been the forming of our family over these years. It’s because he longs to put our hearts back together by giving us himself. We would be lost adrift without this encounter with Jesus each sabbath.
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)