Can’t priests talk about crying babies?

Question

Why can’t the priest say something about babies crying in church? It’s a distraction to prayer. (Appleton)

Answer

Children are a gift to the world and a gift to our Catholic Church. In the Scriptures, we are reminded that children have much to teach us about growing closer to God and to each other. In general, the world today is much less receptive to Christianity and the numbers of young people practicing their faith continues to decline. We all want to see vibrant, growing communities. The one place where families should receive an effusive and warm welcome is at church. We are a pro-life community that values all life and the sound of a crying baby is a good reminder of who we are and who we value.

As Catholics, we value our churches as centers of prayer, solitude and reverence as we seek to grow closer to the Lord. Nevertheless, what defines “distracting” is a delicate matter and even more delicate for the priest to address. When we bring large groups together there will always be noise, including, unfortunately, the jingle of keys or the sound of a cell phone ringing.

The reality is that many young families stay away from Mass because of their children, especially children with special needs. But if we model patience and compassion, these children will one day become future parishioners, remembering our kindness and paying that forward to others.

As a courtesy to others, I have taken my children out of Mass to a quiet place when they have been disruptive and come back in when they have settled down. Most parents try to do that, because we know a crying baby can make it hard for some people to hear the homily or pray at quiet times.

Parents can help their children appreciate the beauty and reverence of Mass by modeling appropriate behavior and parishes can provide comfortable spaces for parents to take their child to nurse or settle down. One church I know of has a space off the gathering area with big windows into church and speakers, as well as a comfy couch and a rug to play on. Other parishes have “blessing bags” to keep toddlers occupied.

For the rest of us, I would suggest that, instead of putting pressure on Father to “say something,” here are a couple of ideas:

  • After Mass, introduce yourself to a family with children and thank them for bringing their family to be with Jesus.
  • Help other parishioners who struggle with this issue to be kind and merciful by pointing out that we all have days when we may not be at our best to others and could all use a kind word or smile.
  • Thank Father for his patience with all of his parishioners, including the noisy ones.
  • Rather than focus on the crying child, thank the Lord for the sound and the gift of children. There is an expression that says, “If your church isn’t crying, it’s dying.”

When I hear a crying baby, rather than frown in disapproval, I thank God for the sound of new life. It reminds me that our community is growing and of Jesus, who says to us, “Let the children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt 19:14).

 

Stanz is director of Parish Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay.

 

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