Our parish doesn’t have a cry room. We typically sit in the back along a side wall, which is mercifully close to the bathroom and the back door for when our 3-year-old inevitably gets antsy.
This past Sunday, it had already been a morning even by the standard of the typical morning hustle. Spilled milk. Brothers fighting. Cat managing to chew through Christmas tree lights. Meanwhile, I am recovering from a lingering cold and the congestion is keeping me up at night. Needless to say, I was already tired by the time we pulled into the parking lot for 8:30am mass.
An initial scan of the church confirmed that our normal pews were filled. My husband proceeded towards the middle of the center section, directly facing the altar.
I trailed a few steps behind, mentally willing him to change course. It was to no avail. When we sat down, I looked around the church from my new vantage point. There were no other families with young children in our section. Other parishioners would be able to see ever fidget and hear every outburst.
As the presider began reading the Gospel, I caught my son using a blue crayon to “decorate” the back of the pew. After taking the crayons from his grasp, he proceeded to roll on the floor under the pew ahead of us. I rubbed my temples to help relieve my worsening headache.
By the time I brought my full awareness back to the altar, other members of the congregation were chuckling at an observation shared during the homily. I was completely lost. Had I even heard the Gospel? Would there ever be a point that I could take my children and be able to concentrate on mass?
My eyes pricked with tears. I found myself battling an intense set of internal feelings. Call it Catholic guilt. Call it mom shame. All of it felt so heavy.
After the closing prayer, we were gathering our scattered crayons and a woman we didn’t know walked up to us. She introduced herself as the head of the liturgical decoration committee.
“I couldn’t help but notice your sons during mass.”
Our heads hung low as my husband and I exchanged a sidelong glance at each other. Was this going to be a public reckoning?
“I am hoping that your boys will carry the Baby Jesus and place him into the manger during mass on Christmas day.”
My husband repeated her slowly, “You want our boys? To carry Baby Jesus on Christmas day?”
I felt the tension in my body immediately release and suddenly I was sobbing. My husband gingerly took my hand as he suggested that we exchange cell numbers to finalize all the details.
As I sat at the pew continuing to cry, my older son stepped towards me to offer consoling hug.
“Are you okay, Mommy?” I nodded and began to wipe the tears from my cheeks.
“Give me a moment to talk to Daddy and then we’ll go get donuts.”
My son scampered off to go share the news of the forthcoming donuts with his brother. Scrutinizing my face, my husband leaned in closer to me.
I whispered to him, “I should have known that God wanted us here with the boys. I spent all of mass seemingly feeling insecure and doubting myself. And then God was there, reminding us through a kind stranger, that we always belong here.”
We both instinctively looked toward the Nativity with its still-empty manger. I thought about this displaced child, born far from home in humble surroundings.
Of course, the Christ Child would welcome home our imperfectly perfect family.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Payne @m.payne66
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