Part II: Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me

There are two passages in the Gospel which are foundational both to my family and to the Lewis Crusade. They are two passages which seem to be almost universally ignored and defied, by Catholics of all ideologies. Yet I know that there are also many Catholics who really take these words to heart.
But still, there is a fundamental attitude that puts human rules above Jesus’ words in this regard, as in many others.

I don’t remember the exact sequence but, during the first 2 months of our marriage, when it came time to decide if we were going to use NFP to delay pregnancy, we went to Mass on the important day and heard a Gospel that answered our question directly.
One is Mark 9:36: “Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name, receiveth me. And whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. ” This ought to be the proof text against contraception, among other things.

“And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them. Which when the disciples saw, they rebuked them.” (Luke 18:15).

See that? It specifically says “infants.” Jesus is preaching. This is Jesus preaching, not some average Fr. Joe parish priests, but Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate.
People are bringing their babies to him. The disciples say, “Take these babies away! They’re distracting!”

What does Jesus do?

“But Jesus, calling them together, said: Suffer children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.” (Luke 18:16-17).

He says, “Let them come!” He says, in fact, that Heaven is made up of little children, and we need to be like *them*. We need to be like children. Jesus does not say that we need to teach children to be like adults.

Immediately after this is the dialogue with the rich young man, to whom Jesus says, “all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” (Lk 18:22).

If you condemn abortion, or contraception, or liturgical abuse, or homosexuality, or some other obvious sin, people say, “Judge not, let ye be judged.”
But don’t ever dare break some human rule in favor of more perfectly following the Gospel. Then people are all about judging.

“You shouldn’t have so many kids if you can’t properly take care of them.”
“Why is your house so messy?”
“Your kids distract me from my prayers at Mass.”
“Why are you always late for Mass? It’s distracting.”

Most people just want to be the kind of “sensible,” “moderate” Catholics like the anonymous person who posted here a few days ago, the people who do just what they think they need to do to get to Heaven (assuming they do that much). They come to church on Sundays, maybe go to Confession from time to time. They may even go to Confession monthly or weekly, and attend daily Mass, say the rosary every day, and involve themselves in various parish activities.

What does Jesus say to such people?

think not. So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do. ” (Lk 17:10).

“This man’s spiritual power has been precisely this, that he has distinguished between custom and creed. He has broken the conventions, but he has kept the commandments.” (G. K. Chesterton, Manalive).
People are unwilling to judge others when it comes to God’s law, but they are more than willing to judge when it comes to human conventions.
We drive people away from the Church, not by our moral rectitude but by our rigid manners.
Where is the Christian charity for those in need? People will pay money for far-away causes. They might even volunteer to go to some far away land and do works of mercy. They might even volunteer to do works of mercy for non-Catholics and people of other races.
Illegal immigrants? “Hey, many of them are Catholic. Let’s go help them!”

Have a fellow parishioner who’s in need?

….. [crickets chirping]
Mary and I believe very strongly that children should be at Mass. One area we disagree on is cry rooms. She thinks they’re necessary; I think we should send anyone who doesn’t watn to hear children at Mass to the cry rooms, so they can have their nice “quiet” mass in a soundproof room, on loudspeakers.
One of the beauties of the Latin Mass is that it takes the burden off the laity. In the Novus Ordo, people are all worried about “Catholic calisthenics.” Jump up, sit down. Switch from this missalette to that Scatter hymnal, and then to that Horror and Malaise supplement.
“Spirit of Vatican II” people talk about “active participation.” They talk about “community meal.” But when it comes to lifting a finger to help a parishioner in need? Fat chance.
I had to drive from Sumter, SC, to Erie, PA, to get the sacraments before my heart surgery, because I had a pastor at that time who didn’t believe in sick visits.
How many Sundays have I gone without communion because I was having a “bad chest day”?
Since we’ve had children, I’ve spent many Sunday masses sitting in the car with a sleeping kid, usually because my chest hurts.
One of my fondest memories of the Church is when we were at St. Patrick’s in Fredericksburg, one of the first times this happened. I think Gianna was a baby. Mary had Allie in church, and Gigi was asleep in the back of the car. It was evening Mass in the winter, and I, as Mary likes to put it, had passed out.
My chest hurt really badly, and I was barely conscious. So I stayed in the car with Gianna and slept. Mary went to Mass. At mass, she asked several people about getting me Communion.
Fr. Paul Scalia wasn’t celebrating, but was there for Communion. When the ECM relayed Mary’s message, he said, “I know the couple. I’ll do it.” (I heard about this later).
So, imagine my surprise when, laying in the car in some state of unconsciousness, I awaken to a rap on the window.
There’s strict Fr. Scalia, smiling and bringing me the Lord!

That was such a great moment.

But that, and a few others, are the rare exceptions in my life.
Mostly, it’s been Sunday after Sunday, sitting at home, or in the car, longing to be at Mass, but unable because of my health. Or Sundays that I’ve gone to Mass and had to leave in pain, but no one batted an eye.
On Holy Thursday on my senior year in college, I went to Mass at the St. Thomas More Chapel at USC. A new priest had just arrived (he just got a transfer last month, after 11 years). I was having bad chest pain, so I left. I practically crawled out of church in pain. No one so much as asked, “Are you all right?”

I stumbled across campus in pain. People glared at me in disapproval. No one helped.

I arrived at the offices of the South Carolina Honors College and collapsed on a chair, just as then-deans Dr. Peter Sederberg and Dr. James Stiver were leaving for the day. They jumped to my aid and called university paramedics. It was the spring after my heart surgery, and, when I decided to live on campus, Mom had told Dr. Stiver to look out for me.
Mom was coming to pick me up for Easter after Mass, and found Dr. Sederberg pacing in front of the Thomas More chapel.
Dr. Stiver stayed with me as long as he could, till they took me away in the ambulance.
Now, I’m a parent.
I remain open to life. We have plenty of reasons why we *could* (many would say “should”) use NFP to delay pregnancy, and, each time, we strongly consider it. But, when it comes down to it, we usually decide our reasons are not strong enough, so we get another kid.
We were talking to some friends last week. The one lady’s husband is in the Army, and they live on base. She says that, on base, the fact that she has three kids is considered monumental.
“Do you use birth control?” People ask her.
“Oh, I could never use that,” they say. “It doesn’t work.”
She says, “Oh, NFP works fine. We just don’t use it.”
I’ve attended traditional Latin Masses that are very child-friendly (and TLMs that are not). I’ve attended “regular” Novus Ordo masses that are child-friendly (in the right way).
I’ve known priests who really encourage parents to bring their kids to Mass.
Most priests and laity I’ve known who come from other countries, particularly strongly Catholic ones like Poland and the Phillippines, or from third world cultures, have no problem with children at Mass.
African priests encourage kids to come and sit around the altar. They certainly don’t mind it when kids “climb in the pews.” And these men are used to living on the brink of martyrdom.
One of the great blessings of my last few months in Virginia was that I finally found a daily Mass I could attend on my lunch break, at Angelus Academy. The celebrant was a very holy priest from Africa, Rev. Joseph Okech, A.J. I explained that I came to Mass late and left early because it was my lunch break from work, and I was giving up lunch to come to mass (I’d microwave food back at work and gobble it down when I got back). He offered confessions on Wednesdays, and I’d go to confession weekly to him. He was a priest that I had no problem confessing to, face-to-face, in a kitchen. He exuded the holy spirit. And one of the things he would talk about in his homilies was the horrible persecutions his fellow priests endured back in the Sudan.
He loved it when my kids came to kids at Mass.
I never felt embarrased to bring my kids to St. Joseph’s or St. Anthony’s Maronite in Richmond. Especially at St. Anthony’s, where we would sit in the “cry room” (actually more of a “family room,” with several rows of seats), and the older kids would give our children guidance on how to behave.
When we were in Sumter from January to May of last year, I’d take the kids to daily mass at St. Anne’s. Since I had good friends there, I’d divide the kids among my friends. After a while, one of the teachers from the school, a lady I never met, would help out, too.
We’ve been pretty happy since coming to Columbia, but lately–I blame the “Lent thing” I posted about below–it’s been increasingly frustrating.
Earlier this month, i was confronted by nasty comments from people about bringing my kids to church. Plus, our pastor has been writing things in the bulletin criticizing people for coming late.
I try to keep the commandments, but, to do so, it requires breaking some of the conventions.
And I wouldn’t have to break those conventions if people were better about helping each other.
We are supsoed to be a community, a family in Christ. Most kids behave at Mass if they have clear one on one attention.
There wouldn’t be a problem if Catholics acted more like a community. Like what I experienced so briefly in Sumter.
The problem with people who say, “children at mass distract me from concentrating on the mass” is not just that they’re blatantly rejecting a clear teaching of Jesus. It’s that they’re blatantly rejecting the entire Gospel. They’re saying that Mass is about *them*, about enjoying a show, not about internalizing the Gospel and putting it into practice: not in some abstract distant future; not 10 minutes after Mass, but right then and there.
See a young couple at mass struggling to keep their big Catholci family in line? Why not go over and offer your assistance? Then you’d really be participating in Mass in the way that counts.
See a fellow parishioner who’s obviously in pain, either struggling to make it through Mass or stumbling out? Why not get up and help?

2 responses to “Part II: Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me

  1. I know this is off the main point of your post, but I don’t think it’s safe for a child to be left in a car for that length of time (during Mass) with a sleeping parent — just like if she were left alone, she could overheat and might not cry (enough) to wake the parent.

  2. Yes, off the main point, and proving the point about judging over helping, but it’s called air conditioning.

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