Jim and I went to mass at our normal time this morning. But this mass turned out to be different. We had our hearts broken about half way through.
We live in a small town; therefore we attend a small church, with a small congregation (compared to many churches in our diocese). There are not nearly as many children who make up the population ratio as we have seen at other parishes. But, there are children. Their ages range from newborns and up. And every time one happens to sit down in front of us, Jim squeezes my hand. Seeing children in the church always brings us joy.
So we paid normal attention today as the pews around us filled up with families with young children. A toddler here, a baby there, squeeze. A few tried to imitate the "Alleluia", which always make me start giggling.
The priest began his homily this morning about how each and every one of us is given gifts, and the greatest gift we can use, through the Holy Spirit, is love. I smiled up at Jim as we listened to Father explain how every single one of us has unique gifts that we can use to share this love. I thought about how Jim shares his love with me, how I could be better about sharing it with him. I looked around at the mothers and fathers in the surrounding pews, showing their own children love, first and foremost by bringing them to Church.
And that's when it happened.
A tiny child, probably 1-2 years old, in the pew diagonal from us, let out a tiny childlike sigh. It was not his first, but what did it matter? I hardly even noticed it, just like most everyone else. What I did notice (enough to distract me), was a grown woman, with her grown children next to her, in front of this child. I watched as she squinted her eyes closed with a look of rage on her face, and she started to shake. This is when I tapped Jim on the arm. I pointed her way with my eyes. Something that I never do during mass, but I knew that something bad was about to happen.
At that moment, the woman turned around in a jerked, hastened motion. Her brows furrowed, her finger and her head shook in rhythm of her anger. I could not hear what she said, but her message was clear.
She had asked the family TO LEAVE THE MASS.
I watched as a young mother and father carried their two very young children out.
The children were wide-eyed, confused. Their parents had tears stinging their eyes.
"And each one of us is called to love...", the priest continued.
I looked up at Jim, and he back at me. Our mouths were open, our faces full of shock and sadness. Tears stung my own eyes.
I did not concentrate very much for the rest of the mass. I kept thinking about that family. Will they return to this parish? Are they sitting in the car, fighting right now? Is their son called to be a priest? And the nagging: Why didn't I stop them from leaving?
As we got in the car to leave mass, Jim and I agreed not to talk about it, as we had nothing charitable to say. But I did start to cry again.
I told Jim this much, that if I could say anything to that family that was told to leave, by a fellow mother at that, it would be this:
"Thank you for bringing your children to mass. We cannot have children. Seeing other people's children for one hour every week brings me more joy than I can describe. Shaking little hands at the sign of peace gives me continued hope. When I hear them cry, scream, laugh, or attempt to sing, I smile. Children are the next generation of the church. They will become future priests, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and godparents. So please, bring them to mass. Let them sing and try to respond with the rest of the congregation. Because even though their timing and pitch is off, they are learning more each week how to be a Christian."
And just as their are no coincidences, I guess this couple was meant to hear these words. Because as I finished telling Jim what I would say, we pulled into the grocery store next to a white sedan. And out popped this family.
I approached her, and I told her everything as our husbands walked away.
And she broke down and sobbed, in the middle of the parking lot, with the blonde-haired baby on her hip.
Thank you, moms and dads. Thank you from two of us who can't, but receive much joy from those who can.