Taking small children to Mass is usually the equivalent to tiptoeing blindfolded through an uncleared minefield. Many years ago, when my wife and I were new parents, we entered another minefield: the “crying” room. On our first venture into this uncharted land, we soon discovered why it was called the crying room. The chaos and decibel levels inside it would have made a Vegas casino showroom sound like a cloistered convent on a slow night.
New parents learn quickly, as we did after just one session in the crying room: The best way to go to Mass with little ones was to join everyone else in the pews. If one of ours got too testy, a designated walker would take the child into the back of the church or outside to avoid disrupting other worshipers who had not paid a cover charge to be “entertained” by our misbehaving children.
In remarkably short order, our children grasped the idea that there were expectations and before we knew it, trips to the back of church were a thing of the past. Then we blinked, and now we find ourselves grandparents of a 4-year-old living with us along with his mom.
Taking our grandson to Mass has brought back some of those memories and created some new ones, too. Being a grandparent is more fun than being a parent. We grant criminally large amounts of leeway to our “new” little guy we would never think about offering to our own children when they were his age.
Thankfully, he is a very sweet and happy little boy (though capable of total breakdowns when the moon is full). We have been taking him to Mass since he was a mere youth of two. We began with bribes, like cookies and a juice box to keep him occupied. He’s since been weaned off and now understands we expect him to sit for the whole time and not disturb those around us. Then there is the nuclear option of suggesting our post-Mass breakfast at our favorite restaurant might be in jeopardy by a certain person’s behavior.
He now sits through the whole affair, keeping his fidgeting to a minimum with images of pancakes and waffles in his future. We realize attending Mass does not guarantee we are helping raise a saint, but I am old school enough to believe that enough Masses and Hail Marys can accomplish anything. But there are times I think my little grandson understands more than I am giving him credit for.
He can lead us in grace before meals, has the Hail Mary pretty well locked in, and though he struggles with certain parts of it, is not far off from mastery of 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. That is still a challenge for a “60-something” churchgoer to absorb, let alone someone who is addicted to apple juice and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
Still, a doubt entered my heart: Was I doing my grandson any real good, making him sit through a liturgy he can’t begin to comprehend? Then, a few weeks ago, I received a very clear message from the home office.
I went up for Communion, carrying the 4-year-old with me so the priest could offer him a blessing. As we were returning to our pew, my little guy pressed his nose near my mouth and sniffed.
“Appa, I smell Jesus.”
I almost lost it. As the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” I truly gave thanks that morning. As my Mass partner’s mind went back to the time left before getting his waffle, I was enjoying a moment of special grace.
I am unsure now who is teaching whom about faith, about what it means to accept Jesus as he is, rather than who I want him to be for my own personal interest. Like everything about this precious little boy’s life, his future is also in the hands of God. All I can do is love him as best as I can, for as long as God permits, and when in doubt, refer to the home office manual.
“Amen, I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18: 3–4).