To Hipster Dad and Trad Dad

A few days ago, Aleteia started the latest round of parents-at-mass wars by reprinting a CatholicMom.com column from last June, by one Thomas Tighe, a self-described “hipster dad,” who writes about one of those incidents I’ve blogged about before where people come up and say rude comments to parents trying their best to teach their kids how to behave at Mass.  Now, whether Mr. Tighe’s description of his attempts really qualifies as “his best” is a matter for debate but of prudential judgement.  I know, though, that when our kids were little, one of the major reasons we shunned the cry room as often as possible was to avoid the bad example of parents who brought snacks and non-relevant toys (we would always try to get the kids to bring religious books and sometimes religious toys).

Sometimes, a cry room is necessary.  Sometimes, a vestibule or a trip outside church is necessary.  Indeed, I got so used to taking my autistic son out of church that I realized at one point last year I preferred being outside, listening on the speaker.

I like the anecdote about Ven. Fulton Sheen, when a lady took a crying baby out of Mass during his homily: “Madame, you needn’t take the baby out on my account.  He isn’t bothering me.”
“No,” the lady replied, “but you’re  bothering the baby!”

Yes, parents of young or disabled children have no Mass obligation, but that is precisely why attending at all is an act of heroic virtue.

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to agree with Tighe, especially given the absolute vitriol that people were spewing in response to his column.  For example, Steve Skojec weighed in with the perspective of a “certain kind of traditionalist.”

Skojec takes the “absolute silence” perspective, including suggesting that it’s a sin to drop a book.  I’m sure he’d be deeply offended by the sound of my wheelchair or the number of times I drop things at Mass!

I wish I could get people like you to stop quoting Mark 10 as a justification for irresponsible parenting. I have always brought my children to Mass, letting the little children come unto Him…but I’ve also always reminded them that the Mass is a supreme act of worship of Our Lord on the Cross, not a friendly gathering where Jesus told the little guys cute parables. . . .

Yes, when the Apostles were complaining about children, they were mad that the children were being perfectly well behaved and wearing their blue blazers with brass buttons.  And when Jesus said you can’t get into Heaven unless you learn to be like children, He meant perfectly silent and well-dressed.

When people have offered actual help, or talked to our kids helpfully, I’ve welcomed it.  Once, when my kids got distracted by the Christmas Tree at the Christmas Eve vigil, the pastor gently said, “I realize you’re excited because it’s Christmas, but please wait till after Mass to look at the tree.” Another time, as my eldest daughter loudly proclaimed her responses at our parish, a lady behind us kept whispering in her ear.  I braced myself when the lady approached me after Mass.
“How old is she?” she asked.
“Five,” I said.
“You must have taken her to Mass since she was a baby.  I kept leaning over and telling her how impressed I was that she knew her responses.  I have a daughter who’s a nun now, and she knew her responses when she was 5, too.”
A few times, we went to Sunday evening Mass at my alma mater’s campus chapel.  We were flabbergasted when the young priest pointed to our kids as an example of how to behave at Mass!   “Those little children know how to behave at Mass better than you college students!” Then when the baby woke up and started crying, he said, “Now, see?  You’ve woken up the baby!”
I went to daily Mass there once with my son, when he was 2 or 3 but not yet diagnosed autistic.  Father asked if I wanted to lector.  I said, “What about him?”  “He’ll be fine!”   I shrugged my shoulders, got up to read, and my son started following.  I gestured to return to the seat, and he did.
My eldest daughter once got up and laid prostrate in front of the altar after a homily about kids at Mass.
She had grown up attending a monthly “Reform of the Reform” Latin Ordinary Form liturgy in Northern Virginia, and the occasional High Mass Extraordinary Form in Richmond.  When she was 2, she sang her Latin Mass parts well enough to impress a Juilliard-trained composer and choral director.
After we moved to SC, there was a monthly EF low Mass we would try to attend.  Once, when she was 5 or 6, confused by everyone being silent during the liturgy of the Eucharist, she began singing the “Salve Regina,” perfectly.  She was sitting a few rows behind me, with her godfather.  I turned to shush her, but almost everyone smiled and gestured as if to say, “she’s fine.”

A few years later, at another parish, I was sitting up front with the younger two, and an elderly couple behind us kept leaning over and whispering what I sensed were gentle admonitions to my son.  After Mass, they asked, “He’s autistic, right?”  I said, “Yes.  They both are.”  They said, “We have an autistic grandson.  We know how it is!”

But we’ve had enough nasty comments to know some people will never be satisfied.
One of the times I tried to bring my son to the low Mass, he whispered some questions but was relatively well-behaved.  Nevertheless, this older gentleman came up and yelled at me, saying, “I raised nine children, and I taught them to behave themselves at Mass!”  I really got the impression that he was as mad about my daughter’s devotion as about my son’s curiosity.  Two other ladies followed him and said, “Don’t listen to him, you’re doing great!”

I often tell the story of taking all four kids to a “Holy Hour” by myself. They’d been to Benediction many times, and knew some of Evening Prayer from my saying it at home.  I was holding the baby.  The then 6 and 4 year old were focusing on the prayers. My son was walking up and down the pews, but being quiet, as he’d done at the aforementioned college mass, which was a huge improvement for him.
They used illicit, barely recognizable, texts for Vespers and Benediction, politically correct, Charismatic and “interfaith friendly.”  At Benediction, they “voted” on which hymn to sing instead of “Tantum Ergo,” and sang “Amazing Grace.”
At the Magnificat, Divine Praises and other points, my kids said the correct translation with me.  Afterwards, the deacon who led it came up and told me how distracting my family was, and children shouldn’t be present at such a “solemn event.”

The last time we had a direct encounter, my wife was in the back with the younger two, who were both sleepy, as they often are, from their meds.  These two old ladies told my wife that our kids were distracting them by sleeping!

So, whether they’re actually being bad, or they’re actually participating, or they’re being quiet but sleeping, we’ve gotten both positive and negative feedback from strangers and clergy.

Yes, there are some people who are blessed with peaceful, well-behaved children, and like other people blessed with particular virtues, they shouldn’t lord it over others.  But there are also some whose kids’ perfect behavior can be a bit scary to the rest of us.

For the past several months, we’ve been regularly attending a Byzantine church that we have visited from time to time over the past 5 years, and I always found the kids seemed to be better behaved and attentive there.  In Advent, I suggested going to the OF Vigil Mass (it didn’t work out because we all got sick), and the kids said, “Do we have to?!”  They find the chanting both soothing and easy to participate in. They love having the icons to pray with. Like me, they find incense bothers them allergy-wise, but they also find it calming (even when they were smaller, they seemed to settle a bit at Vespers as soon as the Censer passed).  They like the community meal after Liturgy.  When there are a lot of children, the DRE gathers them and brings them up to sit in front of Father during the homily.

On Sunday, we were a bit late as usual.  It was Theophany, so there was an especially long liturgy.  I brought three because our middle daughter was sick, and my wife stayed home since I’m the one who usually does.

We stood/sat in the back.  In the second to last row, there was a visiting family–very obviously Latin Rite traditionalists.  The father and sons were all in suits.  The wife and daughters, all in dresses and veils (while veiling is traditional in the East, it’s not an “obligation,” and from my research veiling is usually avoided in the Melkite Church to avoid confusion with Muslims).   My two youngest ended up right behind them.  I was across the aisle.  My teenager was at the other end.  We’d been told to take empty holy water bottles when we came in.  So my son kept playing with his holy water bottle.  After a while, he came over and told me that he realized we had forgotten to get his morning pills before we left the house! I thanked him for holding it together so well, and took him out to the car to take his pills.  I was happy he was holding it together so well, but still trying to keep him in control.  He kept bugging his younger sister, and she kept shushing him.  The lady in the veil in front of her kept turning around and admonishing *her*.

Later in the afternoon, since I didn’t recognize the family, my wife asked our daughter if she recognized the lady.
“Which lady?”
“The lady who kept turning around and correcting you,” I said.
“Oh, *that* lady,” she sighed.  I should note that, of our four children, she’s the most resistant in matters of faith and has already developed the impression that God is a dictator Who just has a bunch of rules and wants to “get” people, in spite of our efforts to teach a balanced view of the faith.  If she grew up in one of these, “children should be seen and not heard” families, what would her faith be like?

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