The chapel was drenched in delicious silence. My husband and I had joined four of Mother Teresa’s nuns in their tiny chapel to pray the rosary and then sit quietly before the Blessed Sacrament.
On this particular day many years ago, a young mother had joined the group, and her toddler was with her. During the rosary, she managed to distract him from wreaking too much havoc, but the period of silence that followed was too much for the little guy.
It was a winter day and he was wearing heavy corduroy pants. During the half hour of silence, he wandered around the chapel, and the “swish, swish, swish” sounds of his pants echoed throughout the room.
Somehow, the situation struck me as funny, and I spent the entire time trying to suppress my laughter – and the effort was agonizing.
Evidently the young mother was enduring her own agony of embarrassment because when prayer time was over, she apologized profusely to one of the nuns.
Sister smiled at the boy with great tenderness and said, “Jesus loves the little children,” and I saw the worry lines on the young mother’s face relax.
Sister’s words often come back to me during Sunday Mass, whenever a baby’s shrieks wipe out the punch line of the sermon or an infant’s cooing disrupts the cadenced tones of the Our Father.
Some congregations want to sequester little children away from adults. They build what are called “cry rooms” or “family rooms,” where families with babies hear the Mass piped in through loudspeakers.
And, yes, I know there’s the old saying that children should be seen and not heard, but when it comes to church, I disagree. A scene in the Gospels underscores what Sister said long ago in the chapel.
Children were clamoring to see Jesus, and his friends were trying to discourage them. Although the comments aren’t recorded in Scripture, it’s easy to imagine them. “Stay back, now, kids. Jesus is busy and doesn’t have time to talk to children.”
And how surprised the friends must have been when Jesus admonished them by saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14-15)
Jesus didn’t seem to think he was too busy for children –and surely in His day they were as noisy and disruptive as they are today.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that a baby who is shrieking loud enough to shatter stained-glass windows should be allowed to stay put for the duration of her fit. It seems a matter of common courtesy for the parent to take the baby outside until she calms down.
But it grieves me when parents of young children stay home from Mass out of fear of bothering other people. It also saddens me when they’re expected to huddle together in rooms set apart from the rest of the congregation.
Really, who belongs in church more than a little child? Yes, they have a way of belting out a series of “ma ma’s” when you least expect it, but that’s the nature of children.
We come to Mass to worship Christ and receive Him in the Eucharist. But He came into a world that was not perfect, and is far from perfect now. There was noise and dust and disruption in His day, just as there is now.
And if Jesus really does love the little children, that means accepting them just as they are: sticky, squirmy and, at times, noisy.
After all, maybe a child saying “ma ma” sounds as beautiful to the Lord as the perfectly formed words of the Our Father spoken by adults. And maybe those babies in church who are chortling, babbling and chuckling are actually uttering their first prayers.
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