Some thoughts from Daniel…
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.