Nosepickers, St. Peter, and the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

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Some thoughts from Daniel…

photo-145

After Haley’s “Kids in Mass” post was featured on Catholic Exchange, a few colorful commenters descended to share their opinions. Some were less than charitable. Maybe they mistakenly thought we let our children roam the aisles and regularly scream bloody murder through the homily. But most people were supportive. One positive comment that stood out to me was a woman who joked about her struggle with her own children in mass and how, when people turn around to stare at her kids, she wants to say, “Jesus is up there, not back here!

Of course, I agree with this sentiment. As Catholics, we believe that Christ is truly and physically present in the Eucharist. So, if a loud toddler somehow ruins that for you, maybe you don’t really understand what’s happening during Mass. But! On the other hand, Jesus IS back there in that woman’s children!

When the disciples, ever concerned with status, asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he called up a child and said,

Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Dang, son! Jesus ain’t messin’ around! Notice, he doesn’t just say, “Let the kids come to Mass. It’s going to be annoying, but it’s your cross to bear. Just suffer through it and complain about it on the internet later.”

No! He says, “If you receive a child in my name, you receive me!” And “receive” doesn’t just mean “begrudgingly allow to enter the sanctuary.” It means “truly accept with grace and charity, expecting nothing in return.”

Even more shocking, he says, “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Forget about being the greatest once you get there, you won’t even get in unless you become like one of these squirmy, cereal-slinging, pew-climbing, loud-talking rugrats!

This passage came to mind recently as I sat in Mass with my almost two-year-old daughter on my lap. She kept picking her nose and announcing loudly, “I got a big one!” I thought to myself, “I’ve spent years studying theology, reading the Church fathers, and learning prayers in Latin. But THIS ONE is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? How offensive!

Surely Jesus can’t mean what he said, right? There must be an easy way to interpret this. So here’s the part where I explain what Jesus was actually talking about. PSYYYYCH! I don’t know what he means exactly. I’ve heard explanations before, but none I’ve found completely satisfying.

But when I think about this question, my mind goes back to one of the most childlike displays in the gospels. Impetuous Peter! The Rock on which the Church was built! Peter denies Jesus, watches him die on the cross, and sees him resurrected. After all this, not knowing what else to do, he simply goes fishing. He and a few disciples fish all night without catching a thing. When a stranger calls from the shore and tells them to try the other side of the boat, they catch more fish than they can handle. Peter figures out exactly who the stranger is and cannot contain himself. “It is the Lord!” he shouts, voice breaking. And he cannot wait, he cannot sit still, he cannot hold in his joy. “It is the Lord!” Too restless to even wait for the boat to row to shore, he jumps into the water and swims to Jesus.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s what it means to become like a child. Maybe Jesus doesn’t want us to sit quietly. Maybe he wants us to bound down the aisle and fall before the altar, broken and joyful as we shout, “It is the Lord!”

Or maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so dramatic. Maybe we just need to humble ourselves and cease relying on our knowledge and devotions. Maybe we need to remember that we must love Jesus and love each other, unreservedly.

So receive the children. The rambunctious children who offer you nothing in return. Receive the elderly with their loud walkers and obtrusive wheelchairs. Receive the coughing, sneezing sick. Receive the surly teenagers and inappropriate dressers. The bad singers and the habitually late. Receive all the disturbers of the peace. Receive them and receive Jesus.

And the next time you see a child standing on a pew at mass shouting, “JESUS! COME OUT!” (That one belongs to us! Hello! Welcome to our parish!) remember that somehow this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (sorry, I didn’t make the rules). And you don’t just have to put up with that child, you have to become like her. 

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Comments

  1. says

    My guru writes a story in his autobiography (Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda) about meditating in India with *his* guru. The mosquitoes were buzzing all around, and although outwardly, he appeared to be concentrating on his meditation, he could not stop thinking about slapping a mosquito. Finally, his guru said to him: “kill it.” This was awfully surprising. But he went on. “You have already committed the sin a hundred times over in your mind. It is done.” This is translated from Hindi (by Yogananda–the book was written in English, but the conversation took place in Hindi or Bengali) and so “sin” means something very different from a Catholic sin.

    Your post reminds me of that story, because the whole point is that God’s peace is an inner peace. If your peace is Godly, it cannot be disturbed by an outward noise or irritation. Because we meditate daily, in my church, silence and concentration are big topics. It is most definitely OUR responsibility to maintain silence and concentration, inside. Since when is communing with God easy?

  2. says

    Agreed! I prefer this conclusion -accept ALL the distractions- over the conclusion that people were seeming to make on Haley’s original approach: the pastor needs to set limits. How could he possibly address everything that someone might find distracting? Nope, not gonna happen.
    This is a good reminder for me too (a mama of distracting kiddos), when I’m blushing with shame while I carry out a screaming child, to react with love and patience. Because that child is who I need to strive to be like!
    Maybe minus the screaming part…

  3. says

    Love this –> No! He says, “If you receive a child in my name, you receive me!” And “receive” doesn’t just mean “begrudgingly allow to enter the sanctuary.” It means “truly accept with grace and charity, expecting nothing in return.”

    Also, the second to last paragraph. YES. It reminds me of Screwtape Letters, when the older devil advises the younger to use distractions in church as a way to lead people away… right on, Lewis!

  4. says

    Amen! I saw the crap you were taking on the article and have meaning to email some encouragement. Don’t let them get you down. You have beautiful children and you guys are doing a great job. I’m glad you have a parish that welcomes the little ones!

  5. Ashley says

    Yes yes yes yes yes! Thank you! One time a pastor told me, “I just don’t see what a two year old can get out of church.” This mentality is so prevalent and disheartening when coming from the leadership of churches. And yet I am hopeful that it will die out eventually, and Christians will recognize that their children belong in the assembly of worshippers because Jesus is there and He wants them there too.

  6. says

    Thanks! Really needed this today. The woman in front of us turned around and said “You know this church has a cry room” I replied, “Yes it does and isn’t that just great” When I really wanted to say, “Well you should go sit it in then” I also wanted to say, “You should ask Father for a private mass since you can’t be bothered with the one with the Body of Christ. I’m sure he has plenty of time for you” Ugh! It’s just so hurtful, especially since my 20 month old wasn’t even crying, sure maybe a little loud babbling but nothing major. It always seems to be the people without children that think they need to “help” you or something. If you want to help, encourage me!!

  7. Mary says

    Oh yes. I read only two or three of those comments before I had to exit the tab. There are so many old codgers who want to rule the congregation with the iron fist of what they believe is “right and proper.”

    You cannot have faith without love. And those commenters have a distinct lack of love. You guys keep doing what you’re doing–you’re fine. You are bringing your children to Mass, bringing them near Christ in the holy sacrament! You are raising them in the faith, and you have NO reason to apologize.

  8. HL says

    I am a single mom. I am very supportive of bringing children to church and all that it entails, and I did it alone every Sunday. I am an older mom so I remember too when as children my sister and I were taught manners for “being in public” and were not allowed to CONTINUE to be offensive in public. The key word is continue. Children are just learning how to be social, how to live in community, so of course they will make embarrassing and loud statements and surprise us when we least expect it. However our culture today is quite different from 45 years ago when I was 5. I was at my parish recently where I teach religious education and heard a child from a second grade class screaming an obscenity as he ran by. When I gently mentioned it to the mom a few minutes later, she shrugged and acted as though “No big deal”. A swear word, screamed on church property in other children’s hearing where we were all gathering for catechism class, and the parent couldn’t have cared less.

    This is my concern. Are we even attempting to correct and teach our children or do we assume that everything they do is worthy of the world’s homage? This is not meant to be unkind. Please do not be unkind and attack me if you don’t agree. Let’s show that we at least have manners as adults. I don’t think we do our children a favor by neglecting to train them in social graces. The world will not treat them well if we have not equipped them with basic social tools. I have to disagree with the writer of this article, because the first time my son would have picked his nose in church and announced loudly, “I got a big one!” we would have gone outside and I would have taken that teachable moment to explain that other people were sitting beside us and that it isn’t polite to pull things out of our nose in public; that’s a private activity. Explain that we can’t go back in unless he can stop doing that. This isn’t theoretical, I was inconvenienced countless times for many years in such situations because I took my responsibility as his first teacher seriously. It paid off big-time. Maybe I missed something, but from the article, it seemed that the activity continued with no response from the parent except amusement. I just think we can be tolerant of our children and at the same time realize that they DO need to learn how to live among others.

    • Haley says

      First of all, no one is going to attack you here for sharing your thoughtful opinion! My blog is simply not that kind of a place. And I take care that in my little space on the internet good manners and polite conversation thrive. And if there are comments that are rude or unkind, they will not be approved, so you don’t have to worry about that at all. If you come across comments that as you say do not “show that we at least have manners as adults” I certainly hope you will let me know. It’s not a place for name-calling, nasty diatribes, or ad hominem attacks and those will not be tolerated.

      I think your opinion is completely valid. Continued offensive behavior needs to be dealt with and there IS a problem with the attitude of many parents. This piece wasn’t meant to be a “what is and isn’t acceptable in Mass” piece or address every issue of discipline or child-rearing. A greater theological issue was at stake. My husband also doesn’t go into specific detail about every disciplinarian action we took during Mass that day. It simply wasn’t the point. The point was to show how upside down it can seem that a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. You can rest assured that she didn’t pick her nose all during Mass and I removed her from the pew multiple times for excessive chattiness and held her in the back in my arms so she couldn’t wriggle. Maybe I should just explain right here that we ALWAYS remove our children from the church when they are talking, crying, or moving distractingly in the aisles. I often have parishioners stop me on the way to the vestibule and say, “Must you take the baby out? She’s barely fussing! Must you take the toddler out? He was only whispering!” So if we’ve given the impression that we are lax in discipline and let our children scream and roam the aisles, that is not the case. I kind of hate giving an apologetic of our parenting because it wasn’t the point, but it seems that you needed that assurance.

      I think we are in absolute agreement that polite behavior and care for those around us are vital lessons to teach our children. And I also claim, as I think you expressed in your comment, that the best way to learn how to behave in Mass is to teach your children good behavior while in Mass. I am quite sympathetic to your view that the attitude that everything our children do is “worthy of the world’s homage” is not only irritating, but also damaging to their growth and knowledge of character and virtue.

      • HL says

        Haley your comments were beautifully expressed and I really appreciate the time you took to reach out to me. I read a lot of the FB commentary on the last article and felt that perhaps a lot was getting lost in the translation of the written word where people can’t hear each other or respond in real time. Perhaps those who seemed meanspirited actually just wanted a sense of the sacred communicated to people like the mom I saw who didn’t see the church grounds as any different from the local playground (and even there, the 4-letter word should have been addressed). I didn’t want people to think I was coming down on families who bring children to church. Once I actually left a parish because during the Consecration, seriously, the pastor actually stopped his words and made a comment to take a child out of church. That poor baby was only making some very soft “happy” sounds.. no crying, no shrieking, just a little babble sound. My son was only a year old at the time. I waited for the Consecration to finish and left the church to wait out the rest of Mass in the vestibule. I was furious. When Father came out after Mass I was waiting to tell him clearly how wrong I felt he was to do such a thing, how unlike Our Lord and to assure him that this is the reason people LEAVE the church, although I would just be finding a new parish. About three other families expressed their opinion to him as well. So I am firmly in line with that beautiful theological reflection you and your husband shared.

        The reason I took the approach I did is because I feel like there are a whole lot of people who are only too ready to do “parenting lite” and I see it constantly as an active member of my parish and a religious ed volunteer for over ten years. I see it in the grocery store where little children melt down and their parents stand nearby wringing their hands and saying, “Now honey…” Your beautiful family is not the target of such comments, but I was kind of surprised by the way it was expressed about the nose thing being the focus, even in the title.

        I grew up at a time when churches were left open during the day. My parents took the time to bring us to church when it was quiet and peaceful and even empty, kind of awe-inspiring, at times when Mass was not being celebrated. They taught us how special a place church was, and their sense of awe was communicated to us. That option is not available to today’s busy families, either due to schedule constraints or due to the fact that churches are now locked as soon as weekend Masses end. Sigh. We can just do the best that we can. Thank you for your beautiful blog and for your beautiful family. I love reading your posts and am very encouraged to know families like yours are making a daily gift by their very presence to our community as Church.

    • Haley says

      Rereading over the second paragraph of my comment, I’m not thrilled with my tone. I think some of my frustration over having my parenting critiqued over at CE by people who have never met me or seen how well my children behave in Mass was creeping out. I certainly wasn’t irritated by your thoughtful and tactfully-worded comment in any way and I’m glad you shared your perspective because it’s a good one. But I am a little worn out by some of the nasty comments I received this weekend, especially since we are so dedicated to helping our children behave well in Mass and treat with respect not only the sanctity of the space and event, but also our fellow parishioners, to the absolute best of our ability. I hope you’ll forgive me if my irritation with that situation was creeping out and be assured that it was not at all directed at you.

  9. says

    Oh how I love this. I thought of your post as I sat behind our Pastor’s wife this morning with three kids under four. It would be so much easier for her to stay home every Sunday rather than trying to keep her sweet little ones sitting perfectly still and quiet in the pew. But she is there every week (cheerios and books in hand) because it matters. I am so grateful to be surrounded by people (you included) that know the importance of taking their child to church/ Mass ever single week.

  10. Sadie says

    These posts are always so uplifting to me. I love knowing that I am not the only parent trying to teach my kids the wonder and beauty that occurs during Mass. My husband is the music minister at our parish and I am often wrestling our 2 and 3 year old by myself (our third is due next month). I always appreciate the help of people around us that allow our kids to sit with them. Why do they act better with others??? I feel like the comments on the other side failed to see the most important thing: Your kids are asking for Jesus to come out!!! That is the most beautiful thing. When our three year old was 18 months old she would talk about “Circle Jesus”….it took me a minute to realize she was referring to the Eucharist. If our kids are realizing His presence in the Eucharist, all the squirms and trips to the narthex are worth it!

  11. says

    What a wonderful post! Both this one and the one posted on Catholic Exchange. I understood what you were saying and I enjoyed both of these well written posts.
    Having nasty comments is always hard, praying for you! I also want to applaud you on your grace dealing with some of the comments. I don’t think I would have handled some of those comments as well as you have :-) Keep up the good work!

  12. says

    This is a great post- and very fitting to our life with a almost 2 and just turned 3 year old- but the nose picking comments made me laugh out loud! Hilarious!

  13. says

    Thanks Haley and Daniel. This needs to be said, over and over and over again. This is how we LIVE our Catholic faith, our pro-life message, by getting the word out: Bring your kids to Mass, we’ll cut you some slack.

  14. says

    Oh my goodness, this post was such a blessing. As was Haley’s post for Catholic Exchange, which I just read for the first time. I found your blog via my sister in law, who emailed it to me knowing my husband and I would love it. While the Lord hasn’t clearly drawn us to conversion yet, He has given us an affection for Catholicism. My husband is a regular reader of First Things, and our family gives us funny looks when our stack of mail is sprinkled with Catholic publications. :)
    What I loved the most about both Haley’s article, and this, Daniel’s post, was the point of being pro-life. And not just about MY children, but about everyone else’s too! I have a 2 year old and a 1 year old, one being very strong willed. You would think that I would be gracious to other families whose children are screaming or squirming during Church, but I’ve been guilty of being secretly judgmental on days my girls are well-behaved and someone else’s kids are taking center stage. This really humbled me, and made me remember that ALL children are welcome, and if I’m truly pro-life, then my whole perspective on children being “convenient” should permeate how I view them–in utero AND out, and not just my own.

    • Haley says

      So glad you’re here, Jen! I love First Things :)

      I think you are so right. The pro-life message is the heart of the issue.

      I don’t have time to look it up right now, but I loved a piece by Calah Alexander of Barefoot and Pregnant called something like, “Other People’s Children.” Really good! Your comment reminded me of it.

  15. Laura says

    Thank you for this wonderful post! We’re expecting our first little one in about a week here. I cantor and my husband plays his violin every week at Mass, so I’ve been stressing about now bringing a baby with us to Church e.g., “Do we need to put the baby in the choir loft’s stairwell when it cries?” Haha.

    A few weeks ago, my husband’s grandparents came to our parish. We have a beautiful family that sits in the front row every week with their three children, all under the age of five. (One of whom is a one-year old.) The children always gab and gawk and the parents have saintly patience with them. Unfortunately, grandma and grandpa sat right behind them that week, a day on which they were being particularly rambunctious. After Mass, grandma was complaining that they even brought the children to Mass. How noisy and distracting! They’re not getting anything out of it, she said.

    Her comment really disheartened me. I’ve always believed that children, from the smallest to the oldest have a place in the Body of Christ. We baptize them as infants, after all! And the fact that we bring them to Mass even as babies sets a foundation for the rest of their lives e.g., Mass is not something you attend only when it’s “convenient”. Moreso, as Daniel has said in this article, the Gospel clearly states the profound love Jesus has for the children!

    This post gave me hope that bringing my baby to Mass is do-able (even if I have to dash from the choir loft to address the screaming baby I let sit with my in-laws). :)

  16. says

    This really struck a chord with me, because I have a real hard time with people who dress inappropriately at mass. (I teach Confirmation, so I’m expected to attend the teen mass and sometimes their clothing choices surprise me.) This was a great reminder to me that Jesus came for the children, for the surly teenagers and inappropriate dressers, for the bad singers and habitually late. I definitely needed to read this today, so thanks. :)

  17. Betsy says

    I especially likes the statement about all distractions, not just those provided by our children! We go to a large parish in a big city and there are homeless or intellectually disabled people at Mass who often can be ‘loud and distracting’. My MIL sometimes makes comments, and now I feel like I have something positive to say in reply :) of all places in the world where they should be welcome, it is our Church. I now feel compelled to do a better job welcoming them. Isn’t it great how Jesus can speak to you through another’s voice?
    We have been very lucky that my toddler is (fingers crossed) easy in Mass. I am sure it will be a lot harder when the second one comes. I admire your family, I am sure wrangling 3 at Mass is not the least stressful part of your day, but it is important and it is our job as Catholic parents.
    I am a convert too, by the way. My mom thinks it is so odd that most Catholics don’t use a nursery. I have literally never seen a young child in my old church. The children are blessed by being there and learn how important it is! Good job :)

  18. says

    I feel so much the same–especially as my two-year-old has grown in knowledge of the Faith and needed instruction. It’s beautiful to see the purity of a child’s faith. I don’t care that he’s making a mad dash for the alter at the moment of Consecration–I just wish I had his simple and utter joy for “Baby Jesus,” who looks a little bit (okay, a lot bit) like a round white circle there in the priest’s hands but Who he loves with his whole little heart. So far, everyone has been all kindness and support at our parish, but I won’t be dismayed if someone feels otherwise. I’ll remember that from Him, my son has a Personal Invitation.

  19. Adele says

    We are so blessed to be in a tiny (the size of most peoples living rooms) church. Most people who are there are elderly and absolutely in love with our little ones. There is no cry room, no bathroom and no where to go but outside (which isn’t really an option in the winter). I honestly think this works better. We have to get the kids to be quietish, and maybe kind of sit still because there is no where to go. But at the same time the wonderful people around us are more tolerant of our children’s antics than we are. Children are welcomed and loved, but also expected and required to behave as much as they are able.

  20. says

    Our church has a ministry for severely disabled, who are transported every week from a local group home. They sit in the front row, and regularly shout out, or make incoherent sounds, and otherwise participate in the mass as they are able. They serve as a reminder to me and my three (soon to be five!) rambunctious children that there truly is a place for each and every one in God’s house, and we are deeply beloved, just as we are.

  21. Kim says

    Hi Haley-
    I read this in your post and not on Catholic Exchange (although that is how I found you from another article). I am I guess what could be considered an “old codger at 55″ but I remember having 3 little ones in mass and I love that you take your kids. There is to me no reason not to for how else are we to share our faith. I for one am more offended by people who speak loudly during communion or worse are texting (yes, I have witnessed that). I forwarded the article to my daughter, her comment – “Mom, this made me cry”. You keep bringing those little blessings to mass and keep on writing. It’s very valuable what you are doing and YOU are making a difference. God bless!

  22. Jess says

    I have 3, who are 3 and under and can totally relate to this post and the other article. My only problem with some of the older people is that they seem to have forgotten that the result of their parenting choices, which they presume to be so superior, resulted in an entire generation of people who rebelled in the 60’s s*xual revolution, and who then failed to raise any of their own children in the Church! Most parents today are just trying to piece together a Catholic life the best way they can with little or no guidance from their own families.

  23. Melissa says

    LOVE this post! Thanks for the reminder – that we are called to be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! :) Sharing this post with my friends on FB! :)

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