Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
I was grumpy and annoyed heading to Mass this morning. Not good, I know. Complaining in my head about the rough morning I've had with my 16-year-old, who has autism.
I had found hoarded batteries and candy (unwrapped, sticky) under his mattress again and he got upset when I spoke to him about it. Then he was adamant he was NOT going to church. Then he insisted we go to a different church, at a different time. Next he refused to take off the hideous squirrel-colored, too-big sweatshirt he had on. Got very upset when I tried to comb his hair; wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He spilled grape juice into the open kitchen drawers, refused to help clean up after the dog out back, lied about brushing his teeth, and obsessed about using the leaf blower—his absolute favorite thing in the world. As we're walking out the door he announces that he has no idea where his new coat is.
I'm thinking, it's going to be a long day, what's the point of bringing him to Mass when he just lied to my face, and why does this have to be so difficult? (Ok, I'm also thinking, please don't let this be a painfully slow and boring homily.)
I have to clear my head so I can participate and focus on the Mass.
As I'm kneeling down, I see an older couple from the parish enter a pew a few rows in front of me. They'd love to have had the morning I just had; their son died of a heroin overdose about ten years ago. A few years after that, another child was killed by a drunk driver. They go to daily Mass. He serves on the bereavement committee, sharing his experience of deep grief and helping others with their own. I think back to my father's death a couple of years ago, when this man showed up at the house. He gave me a hug and asked if he could sit down and help me plan the funeral. He asked about my dad, and I noticed as I was talking that he was crying. Rather than dwelling on his own losses and pain, he's out there empathetically facing death constantly, guiding others through the choosing of Scripture readings and songs. My selfishness and their holiness bring me to tears.
The choir is spectacular as usual, and during one hymn, my gaze falls on a woman I've known from the parish for decades. She's the mom of a girl I went to elementary school with at this very parish. After marrying and having kids, this daughter came down with cancer. They thought with all the prayers and treatments she would beat it, but she died leaving a husband and three young children. Again I'm touched by the grace and goodness coming from a heart that was surely heartbroken and surely wondered, "what was the purpose of that, what good came of it?" There she is singing every Sunday of the love of God and the perfectness of His plan for us all.
During Communion, my son points out another special needs teen he knows from school. Every week we see this non-verbal boy at Mass with his family. They often have to keep their arms around him to keep him from jumping up and running out, and to calm his rocking and sounds. He needs the guidance of two people holding him by the arms, one on either side, to bring him up to Communion. This week it's his dad and his grandma leading up the Communion line, with his mother and siblings behind. I've spoken to his mom about the constant in-and-out of aides, about the limitations set by what this son is capable of, where they can bring him, how much supervision is required for him, about not knowing what the future holds. Her son is so much lower-functioning than my son. It must be exhausting to have the responsibility of someone who requires total care. Yet she's always smiling, and wouldn't think of leaving her son home with an aide. They want him there at Mass, with his family, receiving the Eucharist, trusting God.
My petty complaints are deleted right out of my head. Everyone has his share of struggles, whether we happen to know what they are or not. I leave Mass feeling gratitude and awe for the amazing people around me, gratitude that my son speaks and is capable of what he is capable of, and grateful for the reminders God places in my path to help me carry my own Cross.
Oh, and my son was great today at Mass.