In my former years of blissful ignorance (before the birth of my daughter), I routinely confided with my ministry-minded peers as to how difficult it was to fully participate in worship while one was serving as a pastoral minister.
They all agreed. Those of us who regularly serve as lectors, preachers,
deacons, acolytes, or (as in my case) liturgical musicians, know exactly the kind of attention one must bring to leading liturgical action. It is a strange mix of hyper-awareness and detachment—enough focus to know exactly what’s happening, but not enough to become too emotionally-involved (and miss your next liturgical cue!).
While I must preface that I would not trade my charming 16-month old for a 1,000 or 1,001 worship events where I was serving as music minister, I must say that the level of attention I can bring to Mass as a music minister FAR surpasses any attention I can muster while wrangling an active little girl.
Indeed, my husband and I have become those people, who wander into the nave only to occupy the last pew, and pass back and forth a baby who is content while music is playing, but tends to babble when it is NOT. We can get through with her baby Bible during the homily, but one of us (sometimes both) makes a mad dash with a chattering child to the narthex at some point right around the recitation of the Creed. And, in the narthex we remain, walking her around, pointing out interesting features (a potted plant, the American flag, the coffee urn for coffee and donuts set up) until we can skulk back into the nave for communion.
And it’s even worse—we’re not even going to our own PARISH for these adventures. As I often play on Sunday morning, we try to make it to a vigil Mass so we can all go together—and our own parish’s Mass time is rather late. So we go to an earlier Mass, a bit further afield, at a different parish.
If this is our newbie-parent dilemma with just one little child, what do parents with two, three, or *gasp* more children do at Mass?
I, who perennially like to be hard on myself, might think that I’m simply failing as a parent—or as a Christian. I’m clearly not focused enough—prayerful enough—spiritual enough—a good parent enough—to cohesively unite my life of prayer with my newest little family member. Surely people for ages upon ages have been successfully shepherding their toddlers (and toddlers not even big enough to toddle) to sit quietly during Mass!
On the other hand, perhaps this is an unseen, or underappreciated moment in my spiritual life. This time spent wrangling a small child will not be my existence for all of my life—but it is a season of my life. So what have I to learn from this season?
Practicing being the little church of the family: It would be a lot easier if we simply didn’t take her to Mass—but we have taken her. Every weekend. Since Advent 1 2017. Going to Mass as a family is important to us—even if our attention at that Mass is a little imperfect.
Helping the prayer of others: We have become very aware of how others around us are responding to us—and this is perhaps why we feel compelled to dart out if our little one makes a peep—we very much do not want to be distracting to those around us.
Receiving hospitality from strangers: And, I must say, even as we traverse as foreigners in a foreign parish, we have had more people come up to us to say our daughter is “so good,” or “so sweet,” or to welcome us—rather than give us long dark stares for having a wriggling child.
Learning from moments, not mountaintops: I also find that certain phrases from the readings, the homily, or the music that we hear—might be sweet singing blips which draw me in to the experience of worship, if only for a moment. Perhaps this is a seedbed of lectio divina: I am being asked to draw deeply from just a few words of God, and my response can only be gratitude.
And so, chances are you will find me and my husband, with our little girl, at next Saturday night’s vigil Mass. We’ll be doing our best to actively participate—it just looks a little different from this angle at this time.