Thursday, October 24, 2013

Churches and Children

Yesterday for the first time 15 years I celebrated a school Mass in my new parish in Bend, and I was a delighted and honored sharing reflections with young children and their teachers as well as some parents who attended. It was a beautiful celebration, during which the new school officers were also installed, from Kindergarten to 8th Grade - they all felt so proud of their new role. However, for any child, a church is a very mysterious place. The inside of a Church or a house of worship must be the most confusing place ever for a child. There’s water that you can’t play in, books without pictures, and mysterious doors that no one ever opens. You’re never allowed to see what’s behind you, and the only thing you can play with is your tongue, and that’s punishable by severe pinching.
One of the problems is we never tell our children what services are all about. All they’re told is to be quiet and not talk for an hour. They have no idea what we’re doing. One day a mother dragged her 6 year old to Confession on a Saturday afternoon. Every time she inched towards the closed closet door, the boy would start to say something, and his mother would clap her hand over his mouth. When it was her turn, he said “ I don't have to go to the bathroom. I went before I left home,” and bolted towards the parking lot.
Then there’s the plight of the 4-year old who was in Church on Sunday when the wine and the hosts were being brought up for the Offertory, his mother leaned over and told him that he was not old enough to comprehend the mystery of transubstantiation, and that he was too young to receive Communion. Soon afterwards, the ushers were taking up the collection, and as the collection plate stopped dead in front of him, his mother leaned over and tried to coax the nickel out of his clenched fist. He held firm and shouted, “If I can’t eat, I won’t pay !”

Adults become different people in Church. A few years ago a young boy served his first Mass as an altar-boy. He knew he was supposed to ring the bell at a certain time in the Mass, but he wasn’t sure when, so he rang them every time he passed them. The Priest told his parents afterwards, “I felt like serving Mass with Quasimodo.“ One other boy was so anxious to ring the bells that he grabbed them as soon as the Mass started and would not let go of them, as he was so nervous that another server would ring them instead.
Church for a child is a place where they sing songs one never hears on the radio, where the Priests wear vestments one never finds in the Sears or Macy’s catalog, and where you have to wait half an hour to shake hands with the people next to you. Church is lips that sing “Love the little children” at the same time eyes are saying, “You will never have another Oreo cookie for as long as you live.” Church is where everyone talks about joy and happiness, but when someone rings the bells at the wrong time, we’re afraid to laugh.

One final story about a young boy in a former parish of mine who frequently misbehaved at church. One day his mother was so embarrassed that she decided to walk out of the church in the middle of the homily. And as she marched down the aisle, her head bowed down, the boy yelled loud and clear....”Please, pray for me!” Everybody chuckled as they knew what was going to happen to him. He actually grew up to be a fine young man, even making it to the Minor League in Baseball.

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