Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
This past weekend, we had to split up to attend separate events, and I got to spend some solo time with my youngest son. He's 10 and his Down syndrome sometimes hinders his activities, and other times, reveals his great heart. What some might see as OCD impeding meal time, is also his way of keeping his family fixed on more than the food itself. He refuses to eat his meals if we’ve not said the blessing. If you're late to the table, he says it with you again. If you try to fudge or say it silently, he puts his hands together and bows his head. He expects to hear it. The silent prayer doesn't count. His need for us to pray, and pray again, and sometimes again, is a way of also getting even the teens to come to the breakfast table on the weekend in a timely manner.
On Sunday, we struggled to get to Mass on time. Paul spent the entire first half of the Mass fidgeting, pushing up and down the kneeler. I tried signing the prayers. No dice. I tried reading softly and following with my finger in the booklet. No good. Still, when we got to the consecration, he stopped playing. He sang with everyone else, he garbled the Our Father and knelt by my side. My son receives Holy Communion under the form of the wine. It never fails to shake me how he approaches. Every Communion feels like his first. His deliberate bow, like his deliberate second and third rounds of grace, reveal his prayer life, even if his words and behavior do not.
Preparing to leave, a woman approached me. “May I introduce myself to your son?” she asked. “He's very well behaved.” I immediately wondered if maybe I’d just demanded too much or she was being too kind. However, she told me, she'd seen him receive. She told me her son served as an usher and shared the same condition. I'd brought my family to see her son serve the Mass in that capacity 10 years ago. I'd wanted to show them what Down syndrome looked like. Her son's witness to my family now brought her to mine. She related his trials with needing to leave the congregation during Mass and making noise. I'd seen her son. He'd been to me a perfect parishioner. I'd felt awe watching him actively participate in serving at the Mass.
We both saw the other son's gifts, not the limitations. Her reaching out to me reminded me not to be anxious about many things, but to focus on the most important thing, as Paul did at the consecration. My memories allowed her to know, he’d been a witness even then, to the more he kept revealing to the world by becoming more independent, more capable than people projected or presumed. We promised to call each other. We knew we had more to share.
Heaven holds God's infinite heart, and the souls of all who die in friendship with the Lord, and all the angels. We enter into celebration with Heaven at each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Part of the goal of the Mass is to feed and strengthen the Body of Christ for the mission of bringing more to the table, more to the wedding feast. It's done through shared prayers, shared presence and the Holy Spirit working to build connections between each of us as we struggle, so that we can see the gifts rather than the limitations in each other and ourselves. The Mass is always a communal prayer, and when we show up — when we all show up — we do not know for whom we are witnessing. What we should know is, if we come to the Mass, if we come often, if we bring everything, we will find ourselves in fuller fellowship, fuller friendship and greater communion than we imagined possible.