‘Let the children come to me’

The Scriptures this weekend give a nod to children. We hear about children chosen by God while yet in the womb, acting in the ways of a child (in one of the second reading options for this Sunday) and Jesus speaking of the widow Elijah helped, who had a son.

Often in this column we encourage “When you come to Mass look for …” This weekend, look around. Do you see children? And then, consider, do you think of these children as a gift within your parish community or an irritating distraction?

If you see a child excitedly point to a statue, or echo an Amen just a few seconds after the rest of the community, or clutch a hymnal to their chest, or proudly make a sign of the cross, with the left hand and backwards, be grateful. They are learning that worship is important.

Be an example. Sing. Listen. Be silent. Say the prayers. As a child observes you and listens to you, so the child learns, and one day his “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Harold is his name …” will be transformed into the authentic version.

As a child becomes restless and begins to cry, try not to give a wince or irritated sigh. Rather, praise God that perhaps a future cantor or lector is in the making. Try to accept the gurgles and coos and occasional whine as a joyful proclamation that another generation of Catholics is present, and, after you have passed on, they will be there, in your adult place, praising the Lord.

When a young child asks a question during the homily, in a voice that might not be an inside voice, let alone a church whisper, do you laugh? Well of course you do! But do you also see a young Catholic whose understanding of the church is beginning to be formed?

If a young child deftly escapes a parent’s grasp to run two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met, feel grateful for this child; everyone is the body of Christ and deserves acknowledgement. More importantly, if you are the one chosen by the child to be on the receiving end, be gracious and smile, even if you prefer not to touch the cookie crumbed hand extended to you.

Be grateful for parents who have taken on the hard work of not only coming to Mass themselves, but getting their children ready to come with them. Be empathetic when they interrupt their own worship to take a child to the bathroom or a fussy child to a family room.

Lastly, take note of how your parish provides for young children. Is babysitting provided for parents who really desire alone time at Mass? Does the Children’s Liturgy of the Word happen? Is there a quiet, warm area where parents can take a restless child? Are your restrooms stocked with diapers and baby wipes? All of these things say “Let the children come to me.”

Yes, it can be hard worshiping near a child. However, when we are tolerant of our youngest parishioners, we teach them that their worship matters. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way, to be welcome. While their prayers and songs, restlessness or cries might appear imperfect to our worship, and they are too young to fully understand, by being at Mass, children have contact with the spiritual grace that is the Eucharist.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.