*This is the first in a series of “family tales” – you know, the ones that always begin with:  “And then there was the time…”  The following “tale” took place nearly 10 years ago…:

Daybreak…up long before the alarm, I surveyed the baby, finally sleeping peacefully and nestled in the co-sleeper beside the bed.  It had been a long night of around the clock nursing and now it was time to rouse six other children and the bleary-eyed spouse.

I fell back into bed.  “I just can’t do it!  Just once Lord, once…I just want to get up, get ME ready, and attend Mass without all the Sunday morning drama!”  Already swirling in my head and ringing in my ears were the predictable laments:   “I can’t find my black shoes!  “Where are my tights?”  “I don’t like this kind of cereal!”  “MOMMMMM!  She won’t let me in the bathroom!”  “I feel carsick…”

Quietly…oh, so quietly I leaned over my husband’s sleeping form:  “Honey…shhhhh…don’t wake the baby…I have an idea.  How about just you and me attend Mass together this morning?  You know…quiet ride to church, just the two of us…no pacifiers falling on the floor…no toddlers to take to the potty…just you and me and the first homily we’ve been able to actually listen to in ages.  We can take the kids to the 5:00 Mass…they won’t mind sleeping in one bit!”

My siren-like voice lured him from his sleep with these seductive promises and he agreed.  We awakened the 17 yr. old, installed her in our bed with the baby and dressed like two giddy teenagers sneaking out for a forbidden date.

Ah!!  The quiet ride to church…no one crying, no one pouting, no one yelling or carsick.  Just me and hubby…grown-up conversation with no little ears hanging upon our every word…

We pulled into the parking lot, walked into the sanctuary hand in hand and smiled at friends here and there.  Our smiles were met with raised eyebrows.  I don’t believe anyone had ever seen us together without our children…I’m not sure that they even actually recognized us!  We sat up front…no crying babies to disturb the rest of the congregation, therefore no need to install ourselves on the back row as we had in the past…You’re familiar with the back row, right?  You know, the easy getaway row, reserved for large families juggling more than a few toddlers and an infant.  We sat down, side by side, no children wrestling between us, and breathed a sigh of contentment.

Mass began.  We were pleased to see one of our favorite visiting priests, a lovely man in his 70’s with a Marine brush-cut and a cane.  His deep, booming voice filled the sanctuary, as hubby and I stood, sat and knelt in unison throughout the Mass.

We were so happy, so blissful…so at peace.  Babies cried, toddlers wailed, mothers and fathers shushed and rushed out…we observed it all with  bemused smiles, thinking how very wise we were to take this opportunity to worship in silence.  We felt true compassion in our hearts for our friends, who, harried and exhaused, paraded a succession of children in and out, never really getting a chance to sit down and listen.  Ah, such a familiar dance!  One we were grateful to “sit out…”

And then this elderly, precious priest approached the lectern.  He greeted the congregation, following our pastor’s protocol of making announcements prior to the homily.  He introduced himself and then said the following…these words have been ringing in my ears for nearly a decade:

“I’m so very pleased to look out into the pews and see all the beautiful families gathered together…how you please God!  Mothers…don’t you worry one bit about those crying babies and toddlers, Jesus loves the little children and wants them here!  I know it’s hard…hard to get them up on a cold morning, get them dressed and fed and then bring them here, where they cry and fuss.  God is glorified!  Don’t fret over what you think you’re missing, just attend to them!  There is nothing that I have to say, that is more important than the example you set for them by bringing them here under difficult circumstances.  I bless you for it…so does God!”

That’s pretty much verbatim…sitting in the front of the church it seemed his eyes were riveted upon me and my now squirming husband.  Actually, we were both squirming.  Oh, the conviction in that statement and the heavenly rebuke!  If we hadn’t been so embarrassed, I believe we would have laughed out loud at the irony, the perfectly beautiful irony, of those words…

I don’t remember another thing he said.  The homily was a blur.  I sat there, near tears, embarrassed and contrite over my selfishness.   Questions and recriminations:  “I’m so selfish!”  “Do they think they’re a burden?”  “Why does it bother me when they cry?  I’m never bothered by my friends children when they cry?”  “Why am I not better organized in the morning?”  “Do they feel unloved?”

And others…

The Mass ended, hubby and I made a hasty exit out the side doors…I lacked the courage to thank that priest for his unplanned admonition or to face the inevitable questions from curious friends and, quite frankly, I just wanted to get home to my children as quickly as possible.

We opened the door and entered a quiet house…the children, still sleeping, were unaware of the important lesson imparted at a Mass they didn’t attend…

This happened nearly ten years ago.  We’ve laughed over it quite a few times and use our experience as an anecdotal tale to encourage friends who are walking that same exhausting path…the one we bypassed, for just a few moments, so many years ago.  It’s a sweet lesson…one our Lord, Himself, wished to impart to His disciples:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~Matthew 19:14~