The Family of God is Messy

I had the fun and privilege of having my article, "Bringing the Whole Family to Mass",  featured on the front page of CatholicExchange this week. I've really been enjoying all the comments, public and private, that have been shared. One comment in particular made me laugh...

"This sounds terrible, but I think large families at Mass are a silent protest to the perfectly coiffed, snooty, old or contraceptive types who wish we’d keep our children home so they can PRAY, dammit! What do they think the family of God is? It’s messy! I only have two, but I welcome you large families with small children at Mass. You give me great hope."

I laughed because I felt her authentic encouragement and understanding. I laughed because it was somewhat funny how accurately she described certain challenging people. And I laughed at the sad reality of how we become such a Cross for each other; we, who are supposed to be brothers and sisters in faith. So, not a "ha ha" kind of funny... just an "isn't it silly and sad" kind of funny.

Another commenter writes:
"When I read the first paragraph of this article, I instantly thought, “oh, so you’re the family that somehow always manages to sit in front of me at Mass…”"

And I instantly thought, "Oh, so you're the woman who never smiles, keeps giving dirty looks to my kids and shaking her head at me..."

I'm making light of it but it is important... how we practice charity in and out of the house of God.

All the comments have given me food for thought. Specifically, how so many of our irritations come of clinging too tightly to our preferences. I don't prefer to be distracted during Mass. I also don't prefer being a distraction. I don't prefer lousy cantors either. Or ill-prepared homilists. Or creaky kneelers. Or that cold draft that freezes my ears when we sit in that pew. Or that guy behind me who keeps blowing his nose and now wants to shake my hand at the sign of peace. Or crabby old ladies.

Can you imagine if everyone in the Catholic Church had all of their preferences accommodated during Mass? We'd have to have a different Mass for everyone. Then, at last, we'd all be completely free from distraction. We'd be able to be downright HOLY!

But we know it's a lie to say that holiness can come only in silence and perfect neatness. Just as Jesus did not abandon His bloody Cross, so we must embrace ours. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge that sometimes my family is that cross for other people. I'm sorry for it. And perhaps they do not look at it this way, but they become our cross as well.  I do know that nothing we can do, no finger-wagging, frowning, complaining, yelling or fuming, can eliminate those annoying distractions every time. In clinging to our preferences, we create our own distractions. I could be the greatest saint... if only that child would stop banging his shoe on the pew. Know what I mean? It is a great blessing of motherhood that we must learn to pursue sanctity, not in spite of the messiness, but through it.

In a recent article on Dealing with Distractions in Prayer, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur reminds us of what the Catechism has to say about distraction:

"To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart; for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve." (CCC 2729)

If you are one of those people who look at my family with disgust when we struggle, please do me one favor. When I silently mouth the words, "I'm sorry" to you while embracing the messiness of my vocation, please smile back, even if you don't want to. You will really bless me in that way and I will remember and give thanks to God for your kindness for the rest of the day. Please believe me when I tell you that it makes that much difference to me. Look at it this way: We are a little cross He has blessed you with. And you can become the greatest saint one smile at a time.
Posted on April 4, 2011 and filed under "catholic exchange", "catholic motherhood", "joyful vocation".