Catholic Spirituality, motherhood, Parenting

There’s Jesus

May 7, 2014

When we’re wrestling our small child army into the pew at mass on Sunday mornings, I usually try to pick an outside spot on the center aisle – best for quick getaways and great for allowing a distractible 3-year-old a front row view of the entrance and recessional processions. Sometimes we sit further up front than might seem wise, but lately we’ve been stuck closer to the back as we creep in, moments after father has already ascended the steps to the altar, late enough to be irritating but not so late that we miss any readings. But that’s life with 3 babies 3 and under, at least for now.

Our boys, ages 2 and 3.5, are prone to the same bad mass behavior in babies the world over: begging for snacks, drawing on collection envelopes with the omnipresent ballpoint pens that seem to always end up on freshly laundered church pants and little hands, smacking heads on pews, dropping kneelers on the feet of unsuspecting adults, etc. Evie, at 4 months, is generally content to simply fire concussive rounds of diaper bombs, carefully timed to correlate with silent, reverent pauses in the liturgy.
In short: we’re in Purgatory for 70 minutes. And the kids? They know it.
I’ve seen a direct correlation between how recollected and peaceful I am at mass and how well-behaved my children are. Unfortunately for all parties involved, while I might enter the sanctuary at a 3 on the stress o meter, I’m generally around an 11 by the kiss of peace. Because naughtiness! And bathroom trips. And near-concussive altercations with the bottom of the pew. And audible expressions of outrage involving lighting candles (no, you may not) and eating donuts afterwards (that’d be a hell no).
So. Mommy’s not usually peace-filled during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And therefore, all too often, my little charges are reduced to little more than squirming bundles of angst and woe, completely undone by the cruel hour of torture we subject them to on a weekly basis.
We’ve tried religious children’s books. We’ve tried bribery. We’ve tried talking up the spiritual highlight of our week as, well, the spiritual highlight of our week. But I’m beginning to think they knew we’re faking it. Or at least, I am.
You see, I don’t actually look forward to mass, particularly mass with our family, the way I really ought to if I truly believed we were going to see the God of the Universe up there on that altar come Sunday morning. I am mostly preoccupied with the logistics of feeding, bathing, dressing, transporting and unloading 3 precious bundles of baptized joy into an open pew at 9:33 am, and quite frankly, by the time we get there, I’m about as far from a recollected state of worship and reverence as could possibly be.
Sure, it’s understandable. We’ve got 3 little kids, after all. And on any given night, chances are the somebody isn’t sleeping through it. But the more I contemplate giving our children a real appreciation for the Sacraments and for their faith, the less convinced I am that I’m setting a good example for them.
I don’t long for the Sacraments the way I want my sons and daughter to; I halfheartedly drag myself out of bed to fulfill my Sunday obligation, and I Confess frequently because I know I need it. But it’s all very businesslike at this particular moment in my spiritual life, very habitual. And I know that’s part of faith and part of living the adult Christian life. It isn’t all feelings. But for the very small people in my care, feelings are a huge part of what motivates them to do, well, anything…and if I can’t instill positive feelings about practicing our Faith in them from a young age, I worry about what kind of roots will put down in their souls.
When we kneel for the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I try to take one of the two male rascals into my arms and focus their attention on the altar. Steeling myself against the rhythmic slamming of a tiny blonde head backwards into my nose, I wrestle them in silence, sweat dripping down the back of my Sunday best. When the big moment comes I lean in close, whispering in their ears:
“There’s Jesus. He loves you so much.”Yesterday as I whispered into not-quite-two-year-old John Paul’s ear, it occurred to me for the first time how much I needed to hear what I was telling my son. There’s Jesus. Up there, on the altar. In the flesh. He loves you so much.
“He’s really up there,” I found myself thinking. How often do I really reflect on that? Really consider what it is we’re trying to teach our children.
He’s really up there. And He loves us, so much.
That’s why we wrestle them through Mass week after week…and that’s what we hope they take away from all the faith-forming and catechizing we subject them to; His love. His mercy. His presence in their lives.
Because there, up on that altar, in the unassuming form of bread and wine, held aloft in the very human hands of our parish priest who sat around our dinner table only last week…is Jesus.
Heaven help us as we help our children to navigate this sacred mystery: the reality of eternity mingled with the daily mundane. It’s easy enough to forget, grounded as we are in the earthly realities of work and diapers and tears, but it’s no less true.
There’s Jesus. He loves you so much.


  • Reply Lauren T. May 7, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Thank you for this. I’ve been having these same feelings and it’s always a comfort to know others feel the same :)

  • Reply Alzbeta May 7, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Oof. You are always so. good. Yep. Thank you!

  • Reply Laura Konrade May 7, 2014 at 3:55 am

    I can relate to this in so many ways! A good reminder of why we make Mass a priority even though it can be so difficult with little ones!

  • Reply Jennifer May 7, 2014 at 4:02 am

    Oh, J. You cut to the core of me.

  • Reply sarah May 7, 2014 at 4:31 am

    This was so beautiful.

  • Reply Mary Wilkerson May 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

    I gotta tell you, NO ONE warned me about how traumatic Mass would be with 1, 2 and 3 young children (all in diapers, all under three). It’s awful, but I dread Sunday Mass as my least favorite time of the week. Maybe I need an attitude adjustment, but it is just really hard and it isn’t about installing good behavior because my kids do just fine at the ages they are at. BUT, it is about installing an knowledge that something greater than us is going on and our presence there is important, no matter what. I always get so bummed when people say, ‘why don’t you split Masses/why don’t you have a sitter watch them’ because despite my hatred for our Sunday ritual, I also have a strong love for coming before the Lord with our little family and all it’s imperfections. AND, don’t get me started on the self-righteous anti-cry room people. Because, yea, it’s a bummer, but without the cry room I would never be able to take my kids to Mass solo, and we often pick churches based on whether they have a place we can HEAR the Mass while our kids and others are having meltdowns (aka- the cry room). That’s all for the negative nancy, and on to the postive patty ( I just went there, with all the nick-names). Because we trudge through and bring our kids to MAss, a few weeks ago, I had a weird circumstance where I had to take just our oldest. He knew lots of the words, really tried to pray at the Eucharistic prayer (complete with thanking Jesus for ‘Monster Jams’ and ‘the Zoo’) and impressed all the old ladies around us. It reminded me that Mass, though a weekly fiasco, really is seeping in to the core of who my little guys are. And I love that!

  • Reply Michele Chronister May 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    This is so true! Thanks for this, Jenny!

  • Reply Wally May 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this..I relate very much.

  • Reply Cmerie May 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    This got me this morning. I’ve often told my husband that our children will at least know how important Mass is, because every week we struggle with the four of them there, and it would be so easy to just stay home and drink our coffee while they watch TV. Every once in a while I get a small understanding that this is God and it makes it all worth it.

  • Reply Susanna May 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I have the same feelings of struggling through mass with toddlers. I’ve been trying to tell them about Jesus on the altar, but I don’t think I am getting it right. Last mass the 3 year old asked “Why is Jesus riding a motorcycle?” as Father Broken Foot processed up the aisle in his Hoveround.

  • Reply Kallah Oakes May 7, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Love this, Jenny! So true. Thank you for being real! :)

    Something that recently hit me and really has helped as I drag my feet to Mass each Sunday… I don’t have to “get anything” out of it. That’s not why I am going. I’m going to Mass once a week to give my God the worship He deserves. Because He is God. And I am grateful for His goodness to me. Even if I sit in Mass and stare ahead blankly as my hair is pulled and I am unable to hear a word of the homily – sometimes the gospel too (our deacon has a THICK hispanic accent which drives me CRAZY when I can barely get the chance to listen, anyway)… that’s ok with me, because it actually adds more “Umph” to my sacrifice of going each Sunday in the first place. I am going because He is worthy. And I’m ok with feeling like I am getting nothing out of it for a season. I trust Him to sneak some graces in when I least expect it!

  • Reply Theresa May 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    I love this post. I just love it. Thank you!

  • Reply Bonnie May 8, 2014 at 1:54 am


  • Reply Mia Jude May 8, 2014 at 5:59 am

    Preach! Thanks for saying what all of us are thinking and feeling. God bless you.

  • Reply Caitlin May 9, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I actually had the same epiphany as Kallah recently. I’m not going for me. I’m going for God.

    Nevertheless, I have a huge problem of feeling like everyone around is judging the antics of my two-year old and six-month old. But no one has ever said anything negative, so where am I getting this from? After a particularly crazy Mass on Sunday, a lady a few rows back stopped me to say how much everyone enjoys watching our little girls. Gosh. Why am I so crazy?

  • Reply Britt Fisk May 12, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    This is so beautiful!! Thanks for always being so honest :)

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