At this stage, Jacob learns best by example. I can ask him to clean up his toys and even put him in time out a couple of times when he refuses, but nothing shows him what he needs to do better than me doing it by his side.
John and I believe that it’s no different when it comes to things like Mass and prayer. Of course, at this age, we wouldn’t dream of simply going to tell Jacob to go to Mass or pray on his own. We take him to church every day and do our best to make sure he’s paying attention. We tell him when it’s time for “stories”—the readings—and when it’s not his turn to talk—the homily. He tells us when it’s time for the “Our Father” and kiss of peace. He also tells us when Mass is “all done,” although to him that’s often just before the final blessing.
I am amazed at how much he has picked up from seeing how Mass works every day and from participating in it as much as he is able. He bows before the altar and the Blessed Sacrament. He reaches for the holy water font as we enter and exit the church. He’s recently pointed to me while he’s standing on the kneeler before Mass begins, telling me it’s time for me to say some prayers and prepare for what’s about to happen.
The point is, while he does not sit quietly every day, he is learning from us. We’ve seen what he’s capable of, and we expect a lot from him.
Enter the beloved church ladies.
Our parish church has only a nine a.m. daily Mass, which means that most of the workforce isn’t able to make it. Our daily Mass population is mostly older women, most of whom are nuns dressed in street clothes. (Check out St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan in the morning or at lunch, though, and you’ll see people of every age attend daily Mass in New York City.) For the most part, these ladies are basically in love with Jacob. I’ve said it before, but if popes were elected by popular vote, Jacob would be the next guy in line in our parish.
One morning earlier this week, a lady commented to me that she thinks it’s great that we take him every day and that we’re teaching him about the faith this way. I appreciate that, and that knowledge that she, at least, won’t cringe if Jacob has a bad—read: loud—day now and then.
But sometimes there are women who don’t seem to understand what we’re trying to do. If they’re sitting behind us, when he turns around to climb onto the pew, they’ll reach for his hand, talk to him, try to make him laugh, and so on. If it’s before or after Mass, this is fine with me. If it’s during—and more often than not lately, it’s been during the Consecration, the holiest part of the Mass—it’s not okay. Motherhood has taught me courage and given me the ability to speak up when something’s not right. This situation is no exception.
I’ll start by whispering (not so quietly) to Jacob, “It’s not time to play now. We can make friends later.” I’ll try to draw his attention to the altar. If I can, I’ll physically spin him around to face forward. But that doesn’t always work. A couple of times recently, I’ve had to speak to some women directly, telling them that although they say they’re okay with playing with him, I’m not. I’m not often met with the friendliest of looks at this point. For a moment, I doubt myself. In the evenings I run these incidents by John to make sure I’m not crazy. His affirmation that I’m doing what we want to do as parents makes me stronger for the next time. And unfortunately, there has been a next time.
Here’s the thing. Yes, there’s a baby in church. Yes, he’s arguably one of the cutest babies ever to have entered said church. These women are very loving and may not see babies very often; their babies or grandbabies may be living elsewhere. I’m okay with us kind of standing in for a while. But not during Mass. There’s time to socialize afterward, and we always make sure to turn around and make friends after the final blessing. But distracting my child and me from the miracle of the Mass is not okay.
Jacob’s there because he’s learning about his faith. He’s also there because his mother is attending Mass, because she has found its graces in her day. Really, isn’t that why everyone’s there? Some would argue that Jacob is a grace in their day. Our priest has told us as much concerning himself. But Jacob is not just a baby; he’s a person getting to know the faith that is being passed on to him. And I’ll take a dirty look any day of the week if it means I can give him that.