Tommy Tighe sets us up nicely for a little twist in his essay, A Letter to the Lady Annoyed By My Kids at Mass. He starts out with a complaint I've heard a thousand times -- a legitimate complaint, but maybe somewhat overplayed: Hey, fellow Catholic. I'm just here being pro-life, walking the walk, doing what Jesus told us to do, letting the little child come unto me, and you mean Catholics were mean to me!
Here's how he begins:
[L]ast Sunday you felt inspired by the Holy Spirit (I’m assuming) to let me know that I was handling the situation all wrong.
Didn’t I know there was a crying room where I could let my children be as crazy as they want to be? Could I take the screaming baby outside next time? Why didn’t I inform my children that they shouldn’t be dancing in the pews during the Gospel? Don’t I know people are trying to pray?!
He describes how he was too flustered to do more than apologize, but later found himself coming up with things he could have said:
I wish I would have told you how the dirty looks and critical comments about children make parents second-guess whether they should be bringing them to Mass.
I wish I would have reminded you about Mark 10, where the disciples rebuked parents for bringing their children to Jesus. I wish I would have asked you if you remembered Jesus’ reaction:
“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”
He was indignant!
Before we go any further (and before we get to the twist. There is a twist!), I'd like to state for the record that I don't think that parents should ignore their kids while they dance wildly in the pews, and I don't think parents should stand by placidly while their babies scream for long periods, without making any effort to comfort or move them.
From his description, I don't think Tighe is doing these things.
It sounds like, despite his and his wife's best efforts to contain, distract, and control their young kids, their kids still act like kids sometimes; and it sounds like nothing but a pure absence of children would satisfy the woman who confronted him.
The truth is, some people truly won't tolerate kids acting like kids even slightly, for even one second, even as their parents are doing their best to keep them in line. I've had people glare at me as I'm dragging a wailing baby out (what am I supposed to do? Teleport?), and I've had people grimace at my kids for committing the foul sacrilege of whispering, "What page are we on?" For every story about clueless, entitled parents allowing their unruly brats to terrorize the ushers and throw jelly beans at the pastor, there are ten stories about dour parishioners sending exhausted parents a very clear message: that the Church has no place for families, and that God can only be worshipped in tomblike silence. And guess what? Parents get the message, and they and their kids leave for good. Tomblike indeed.
So. I suppose you'll go ahead and tell your sad stories in the comments section anyway, but it won't be a good use of your time. I've been a Catholic all my life, and I've seen it all. I've been annoyed and outraged and scandalized at the things some parents let their kids (and themselves) do at Mass. Some people really do behave badly. It happens.
And none of that is the point.
The point is what Tighe goes on to say, after his little agony of second-guessing in the Church parking lot. As he pondered the idea that children help people like the grouchy lady hone the virtues that make people into saints, he realized that he could use a little honing himself. The grouchy lady should have responded with more love -- and so should he. He says:
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of deep suffering due to an experience of infertility?
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of sadness over a distant, unloving or uninvolved spouse?
Did I ever stop to think that your comment may have come from a place of regret for not making Mass a priority for your children, who have now fallen away from the faith?
I’ll admit I didn’t.
Instead, I let it be all about me. And even worse, I let myself become consumed with thoughts of what I could have said to “put you in your place.”
And so if I’m going to suggest that God put an unruly, loud and annoying family in front of you at Mass for the sake of turning you into a saint, I’m going to also have to acknowledge that he did the same for me by bringing you into my life.
It’s up to me to decide if I’m going to take what he offers me through you and allow it to spoil my relationship with him, or if I’m going to take it as an opportunity to say yes to him and all that comes along with that.
In other words, any time you go to Mass and think, "What am I going to get out of this?" you're doing it wrong. Any time you meet another human being and think, "What am I going to get out of this?" you're doing it wrong. And, dare I say it, any time you read an article about a guy who's challenging himself and everybody else to be more charitable toward difficult people, and your first impulse is to leave a nasty comment about how awful the author and his kids are . . .
. . . Okay, I'll take a hint from Tighe. Pray for me, and I'll pray for you.