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Children at Mass? No sweat!

God doesn’t ask for perfection, but only genuine effort. The important thing is getting the kids to Mass, even if it’s a sweat-inducing endeavor.

By Dan Cellucci
Dan Cellucci works with Catholic Leadership Institute. He and his wife, Tricia Manion Cellucci, and their daughters, Annie and Katie, are parishioners at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Rosemont.

So I have a sweating problem. It’s something I am pretty open about, mostly because it’s pretty obvious. I sweat easily with exercise, otherwise known to me as “walking.” I sweat in awkward situations otherwise known to my wife as all too frequent moments in her husband’s existence. Grossed out yet?  I’m sure and with good reason. Perhaps though, fellow parents can relate to my most effective sweat-trigger – parenting the children at Mass.
You start with the best intentions. Everyone will put on their Sunday best, walk in an orderly and prompt fashion to the car while expressing their enthusiasm for another visit to the parish. In reality, before you even enter the church, you have created several more reasons to fervently participate in the penitential rite and to extend a kiss of peace. For parents (especially those of little girls) know that one’s “Sunday best” is never an easy negotiation and “orderly” and “prompt” usually implode into “frantic” and “frustrated” and “looks like we might be in time for the noon Mass when we were shooting for the 9 a.m.”
As you settle into your pew, the situation doesn’t improve. Who’s fighting with whom? Who needs to sit in between whom? Which toddler has spilled their falsely advertised spill-proof container of Cheerios on the older couple behind you? And despite the 100 other crying children in the church at that Mass, for some reason, your child’s cries seem to be somehow piped through the sound system while every good and focused Catholic seems to be looking at you and wondering why it is you can’t control your children at Mass. And so you sweat … well at least I do.
I was sharing my challenge with having the girls at Mass with a priest friend of mine. What’s the point of this week after week? My little girls don’t seem to be focused on what’s going on. In trying to handle them and prevent distractions to others, my wife and I are not as focused as we should be (in truth she is a lot better at multi-tasking). Wouldn’t we be better off dividing and conquering with one of us going to one Mass while the other tends to the children? Why keep doing this?
“Dan, I’ll give you three reasons,” he said. “First, you do it because you made a promise to God at their baptism. You accepted the responsibility to be their primary teacher of God’s word and you asked a community of believers to support you in that. Second, you do it because Jesus asks you to do it. He instructed us all to “do this in memory of me” – there is no more important foundation to our faith than the Eucharist. And third, you love those girls unconditionally and you know that ultimately they don’t belong to you. Rather you are simply their caretaker with the important responsibility for making sure they know who they are and whose they are. You do it because you want them to have every special and unique blessings God has in store for them.”
“But Father,” I exclaimed, “what of the fighting, the screaming, the dress selection? What of the Cheerios!”
My priest friend smiled. “Dan, He doesn’t ask for perfection, He simply asks for your genuine effort. He wants you to bring the messiness of life to Him so that He can grant you His pardon and His peace. The important thing is that you get there and you get them there. So don’t sweat it.”