And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16
The church I work at recently merged with the other two Catholic churches in town, to form one new parish. Our pastor decided to entirely reconstruct the Mass schedule and new Faith Formation program, to get more families to come to Mass. What was so sad to me was how much backlash this created. Many older adults were visibly upset that they had to share their only Sunday Mass, their pew, with children who may not be the quietest or families who may be a bit disheveled. Upset that the church would be a full church with crowded pews, full of life. What pained my heart the most was one gentleman’s comment, that “we are accommodating the youth at the expense of the elderly.”
This is not Jesus. This is not the Church. Jesus told us to let the little children come to Him, and do not hinder them. While making sure the elderly are comfortable in church is necessary, it can’t blind us to the importance of children. Wiggly children that may not stay quiet. I don’t have children yet, but I can assure you that the baby who loudly coos “hi” to the people in the pews behind her during the consecration is not a distraction or an inconvenience, but actually an aid to prayer.
It reminds me to have childlike faith. This is why it’s so important to have the witness of children at Mass. It reminds me to become like a child before our Lord. Even a whining, impatient child who just wants it to be over so he can have donuts. Because even that child reminds me of my own stubbornness, my own impatience before the Lord. Seeing a parent struggle with their misbehaving child reminds me of what a struggle it is for the Father to deal with us sometimes.
If we are a church without children, we are a church without a future. Pope Francis has said that "A people that does not take care of its elderly, its children and its youth has no future, because it abuses both memory and promise.” You’ll see in upcoming weeks that the elderly and their wisdom are just as important of a witness, that they shouldn’t be cast out either. But we of all ages need to welcome the child at the same time. So let’s not make it hard for children to be at Mass, but welcome them joyfully!
Reflection: How can you better welcome a child at Mass? Can you bring someone in your family, or reach out to the frazzled mom in the pew next to you? Also consider helping to support children and single parents outside of church, in their most basic needs such as education, proper nutrition, etc. Did you know Mary’s Meals (www.marysmealsusa.com) helps feed over 1 million children at school around the world?
To Jesus through Mary-Emily Naylor