There happened to be a busy mother who had the privilege of attending morning Mass on two consecutive days. On the first day, her husband watched the children and the mother was without distraction. On the second, all 5 children attended with her. Which experience was the more "meaningful" of the two? Let's take a closer look...
Mass #1: The child-free Mass
I have no difficulty rising this morning and I quietly slip out of the house and run to the car. Ah! Blessed Silence! Even the ride to church is an opportunity for prayerful reflection, like a 7-minute vacation on wheels. There is no squabbling to be heard. No whining. No howling. Not even any whistling. Lovely.
Mass is beautiful, objectively and subjectively. I know Mass is always beautiful because Jesus Himself is the essence of beauty; but this Mass is beautiful to my weary senses as well. I can pray without distraction, listen attentively to the Word of God and the excellent homily, bask in the miracle of His Presence. No one is tugging on my skirt, stepping on my toes or sticking fingers in my ears. I am so grateful for this gift of time alone with Him.
Mass #2: The Mass of my Vocation
Has it ever been this difficult to get out of bed? I'm sure there must have been other times but this one is truly a mountain to be overcome. The kids feel it, too. We press on and I determine that even a bullwhip would be an ineffective motivational tool for my group of little zombies. Out the door into the cold, transferring the sounds of grumpy young life to a new location. We pull into the parking lot and I joke interiorly, "Go on in, everyone. I'll stay here and have a quiet nap." We pile out of the car.
Again, Mass is beautiful but I am fighting through weariness and distraction to see it. I know it intellectually and in faith and today that must suffice. My prayer is weak and interrupted. I miss some things. Like the Gospel. Jellybean is pulling my hair and sticking her fingers up her nose and I guess I can't tend to 3 things at once. The children are actually rather well behaved. I know it is a struggle for them, too, and I applaud their courage. They have no idea that their externally "well-behaved" mother is the picture of an ADHD 4-year old on the inside. It is one of those Masses where the priest says "The Mass is ended, go in peace..." and I say "Thanks be to God!" and mean it on multiple levels.
At which Mass was my disposition more pleasing to God?
My knee jerk response is to say that my attendance at the first Mass was clearly more pleasing to the Lord and more efficacious to my soul. And if only I could get babysitting for every Mass! And if only I could have so much time alone everyday! And if only...
On closer reflection I see that I am perhaps mistaken. What I know with certainty is that my "child-free" Mass was more pleasing to ME. I was comfortable. I was consoled. I was convenienced. But the second Mass was truly a Mass of my Vocation. I was living the life that God ordained for me. It is the path through which I must find holiness.
The mistake in my initial assessment was forgetting that the Christian life is about effort and that comfort level is not an indication of spiritual progress. Love is an action and Christian love is a suffering love. Love is only pure when it serves the beloved.
I do not claim to know the thoughts of my Lord, but it does seem possible that my weak and weary struggle of mothering through that second Mass was at least as pleasing, if not more so, than the Mass that was "easy" for me. What toil will we offer for love? What sleep will we sacrifice? What hardship will we endure? Even a bad person can do a good deed when it is easy and profitable to himself. The tremendous effort that was required of me at the second Mass was significantly more than the first. In spite of my many failures, I believe that my struggle was pleasing to God because it was a work of love and obedience.
Will I jump at the chance to attend another wonderfully silent morning Mass? Of course! The task of motherhood requires times of regeneration and silence in Christ. But I pray to never forget that sanctity will only come through the embracing of my vocation...and not in spite of it.
**Picture from InsideCatholic and this excellent and related article called "Why Young Children Belong at Mass" by Kate Wicker.