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Dear Sister Sunday

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Mom and baby at Mass

Dear Sister Sunday,

I can hardly write this for crying. I’m so hurt and angry and humiliated. I went to Mass this morning, an 8am weekday Mass in DC, with my toddler and preschooler. We’re facing a difficult situation with our housing , and I needed guidance and encouragement. I like to sit near the front with my kids because I think they behave better when they can see what’s going on. The kids were squirmy, like toddlers are, and making noise, but they weren’t yelling or crying or throwing tantrums. If they had been, I would’ve walked to the back of the church, or outside, until they calmed down. They were just acting like toddlers. On a scale of 1 to 10 they were a 3 or a 4. I was shocked and humiliated when an usher came over and told me that I was distracting the priest and congregation and that I needed to take my children to the back of the church or leave. So, I picked up my kids and left. I stood crying in the vestibule while I wrestled them back into their snow clothes and no one offered me a hand or an “I’m sorry.” I’m just devastated. What should I do? Pope Francis says the church is a place of refuge and now this.

Signed,

Heartbroken

 

Dear Heartbroken,

I’m heartbroken, too.

This kind of inhospitality is responsible for people leaving the Church.

I remember when I had my first three children, all under the age of four. We were an unwieldy bunch, someone always wet or hungry or crying or spitting up or deciding to sing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” as a solo number. (And I would later have a fifth child who liked to lie on the floor during Mass — don’t ask me why — and inquire from time to time, “What’s God doing now?”) You can see why I told an older friend that I hated to bring them to Mass because they didn’t always behave.

I will always be grateful for her wise advice. She said, “Well, they’ll never learn to behave in church if you don’t bring them to church. You wouldn’t expect them to know how to sit at a table and use good manners if you didn’t bring them to the table every day where they could watch people getting through an entire meal with out flinging mashed peas on the floor.” She knew my children belonged in church. We don’t tell our babies that we will bring them into the life of the house as soon as they are able to make their beds and help with the dishes. No. We know that they learn to be members of a household — or the household of faith — by living in one and watching others.

I wonder what the parish policy of this priest is as regards baptized Christians with dementia or strokes that have left them unable to control their emotions or Tourette’s Syndrome or various forms of intellectual or psychiatric disabilities? (I’m thinking now of a sweet man with Down’s syndrome in my friend’s parish. Everyone in the pew just knows to let him bolt from his seat and run to be first in line for doughnuts even as the first notes of the final hymn are sounding. That might be rude behavior on my part, but he is behaving in an away that is appropriate to his intellectual and emotional abilities.)

Are these brothers and sisters not still, and always, a part of the Body of Christ?

I recognize the need of caregivers to make sure that the people around them aren’t prevented from hearing or participating in the Mass because of the outbursts of the people, whether children or adults, in their care. But, if, as you write, the toddlers were doing what toddlers do: squirming, babbling or announcing the urgent need to go potty, then I am stunned and saddened that anyone, especially a priest, would want them to leave. A pro-life church that welcomes children in the world surely must welcome them in the pew. I love the sound of babies and children in Mass. It sounds to me like life, the abundant life Christ promises and invites us to embrace.

You asked what you should do. I think you should make an appointment to talk to this priest. He may have rushed into the morning Mass without his coffee, or have just seen the estimate for the new roof, or been feeling cranky that day. The usher may have misunderstood him or had his own agenda. Give the priest a chance to say so and to apologize.

And if the priest stands his ground? You should write to his bishop, simply and without anger, laying out the facts. He should know that in a Church where people in your generation are leaving in disturbingly high numbers, a young woman who wants to be there, and wants to raise her children there, was asked to leave because her babies were acting like babies. In my experience, this kind of inhospitality is responsible for more people leaving the Church than any number of doctrinal disputes.

Then, find a new parish. Leave Father and his ushers to their old-aged quiet. But, please, please don’t stop coming to Mass and don’t stop bringing your children. They need us and we need them. They are part of our body, the Body of Christ, and it does grave injury for any part of the body to be severed from its whole because of the sin of one member.

And, if you’re out Sister Sunday’s way, please come to my parish. Bring the kids and sit by me. I’ll even have some Cheerios in my purse.

Bless you,

Sister Sunday