When you sit behind that special needs family at church, here’s what you should know

For many parents of kids with special needs, it’s hard to be at Mass. Just being there is hard. It is the one place they ought to be welcome and feel at home, but instead, it’s often stressful and exhausting, and they feel judged and misunderstood, burdensome, or just plain forgotten. 

Some of that has to do with how adaptive the parish has become. Many parishes have made good accommodations, offering ramps and ADA compliant doors, several pews with lots of space for wheelchairs and for caregivers, and even changing tables designed for heavier kids, not just babies. Some parishes offer adaptive religious education and other activities that attempt to include kids with different abilities; and some priests are ready and willing to provide the sacraments to Catholics who can’t express themselves in typical ways. 

When a parish pulls together and offers these accommodations, a special needs family knows they are truly welcome, and it’s a beautiful thing.

But the other thing that really makes a difference is how other people behave in the pew.

When a special needs family shows up every week, how are they received? Sometimes people who don’t have experience with special needs don’t mean to be hurtful; they simply don’t know better. Here are some things special needs parents wish their fellow laymen understood. 

A kid with special needs may may moan, growl, gesticulate, or sing wildly off pitch. He may shout “JESUS!” when he sees Jesus. Fellow Catholics should try not to stare, scowl, or sigh. A pro-life parish welcomes individuals even when their special needs aren’t cute or photogenic, and special needs Catholics are entitled to participate in the Mass according to their abilities. 

People with special needs may need more time getting in and out of pews. Please be patient. If not when we’re in the presence of God, then when? 

The kid who’s fiddling with a toy, wearing a peculiar hat, or dressed in casual or seemingly inappropriate clothing may truly need to do so in order to be there. What looks like irreverence may be what’s allowing them to make it through Mass. And sometimes phones, handheld devices, or juice boxes are true medical devices, and may be saving a child’s life.

Some kids cannot sit still. They are literally physically incapable of it.  This is how God made them, and they should not be banished to the cry room or the foyer every week for their entire lives because of that.

Disabilities and special needs are not always visible or obvious. A child who looks “fine” may have completely invisible struggles, and just getting to Mass every week may have been a huge effort for the family. Things that come easily to typical families may be monumental trials for families with special needs, and their parents are very aware that their kids are being judged as undisciplined “brats.” Fellow Catholics should strive to provide a place where this kind of judgement doesn’t happen.

People with special needs don’t always look their age. Others should simply assume that their parents are dealing with them in an appropriate way, and leave it at that.

If you’re stopping to chat, go ahead and chat with people with special needs, too, or at least smile at them. Even if they have some intellectual disability, they still have human dignity and deserve to be greeted and acknowledged like anyone else. Even people with profound disabilities can have their feelings hurt (and their parents definitely can), so it’s also important to be careful what is said in their hearing.

People with special needs are individuals with dignity, and their possessions are private property. Resist the urge to move them or their wheelchairs or devices without permission. If you need to touch something that belongs to them, always ask first, just as you would with any kind of personal property.

Parents have tried the obvious solutions to their struggles. They are experts, and even if you mean well, they don’t need to hear a suggestion that just popped into your head. Even if you happen to know someone else with that same condition, your understanding is not going to be comprehensive, so it’s not a good idea to belly up to a special needs parent and act like an expert when you’re not living their life.

Families vary, but in general, they probably do not want to be pitied, they probably do not want to be lavished with praise as saints or heroes, and they probably don’t want to hear anyone’s reassurances that God will heal their children. If you see a special needs parent struggling, you can always ask if they need a hand — but don’t be offended if they decline. And you can’t go wrong by offering a sincere word of encouragement, like, “You’re such a good parent” or “You’re doing such a good job” or “I love seeing your family here.” 

Most likely, special needs kids and their parents simply want to feel like they belong, just the same as any other Catholic who takes it for granted that there is a place for them in the pew.

 

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For more information, resources, and community for Catholic special needs parents, visit acceptingthegift.org, an apostolate founded by Kelly Mantoan
Many thanks to all the parents who contributed ideas to this essay. 

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A version of this essay was originally published in Parable Magazine in November of 2021. Reprinted with permission.

Image: Wheelchair ramp up to the cathedral entrance, Coventry – start of the handrail
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Robin Stott – geograph.org.uk/p/5028944

 

How to pray after receiving Communion

You would think that, by now, I would know how to get through the Mass. I don’t have little babies to keep me trotting up and down the aisles, and I don’t have toddlers that need to be taken to the bathroom three or four times. I’m not even breaking up rosary tug-of-war tournaments or fishing pieces of the bulletin out of anyone’s mouth. I have arrived: It’s finally just more or less me and the Lord.

And I’m finding I’m not exactly sure what to do — especially right after I receive Him in the Eucharist.

This . . . seems like a problem, because I know perfectly well that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. So it feels weird to receive it and then go back to my pew and not be overwhelmed. I know spiritual integrity is not about emotion, but it really is disturbing that I find it much easier to focus and pay attention at every other part of the Mass. Right after receiving the Eucharist, though, my mind wanders, and I hate that.

There are, of course, prayers for this. It’s never a bad thing to look up prayers written by someone else for a specific occasion, and you get zero points for having memorized a prayer, or for coming up with something original. But somehow I can never find the right page, or it never occurs to me to print something out ahead of time. And to be honest, I have never found one that I really like.

You can see that I have a tendency to fret and interrogate myself over whether I’m praying right, which very effectively prevents me from praying at all. And I hate that, too. Although I take some comfort in remembering that even the twelve apostles, who knew Jesus personally and intimately and were sitting at the same table with Him at the very first Mass, were also pretty confused, and were not sure what to say or think when He started offering them His body and blood. This is strange stuff!

Some people will say “Just tell Jesus what’s in your heart!” Fine, but also not happy with my own extemporaneous prayer. Somewhere along the way, in my efforts to focus my conscious prayer properly and not miss the moment, I started to feel that the miracle of transubstantiation was sort of the main attraction, and that it was this mystery that I must train all my attention and focus on.

Don’t get me wrong; transubstantiation is very cool. There’s plenty of food for thought, as it were, in the idea of Jesus using ordinary, physical food and making it into his body and blood that feeds us. But it would be a mistake to lose sight of the thing that happens whether we consume that food or not: Christ does not die again, but he does give himself to us again. He does not suffer again, but he does come to save us. Right there, at the altar, right in front of us.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, but we don’t necessarily go to Mass only to receive the Eucharist. We still have the obligation to attend Mass even if we don’t intend to receive; and while we’re there, what we witness and, to whatever extent we’re able, what we join ourselves with, is the sacrifice of the Mass. I have found it very helpful — centering, if you can tolerate that word — to recall and dwell on the unbloody re-creation of the sacrifice of Jesus, rather than on my subsequent reception of it.

In fact, it’s been a relief to put the focus on the sacrifice, rather than on receiving. On Him, rather than on me — imagine that.

Maybe I’m making this sound very theologically elevated. It’s really not.  It’s sort of like realizing that someone has been quietly, faithfully tending and irrigating your farmland, and will continue to do so, should you chose to plant something. 

Here’s a little background:

Several years ago, I got it into my head to interview one of my children on the occasion of the annunciation. I suppose if it had gone poorly — if she had claimed there were four persons of the trinity, or that the middle one was named Jeremy — I wouldn’t have saved it; but as it happens, it went well. So well that it popped into my head the other day, as I was struggling with these questions of how to arrange my heart at Mass.

Here’s the pertinent part: I asked her what day it was, and she said it was the annunciation, “when Mary was told she was having a baby”.

Me: Who told her that?
Kid: A angel.
Me: What did the angel say?
Kid: You are gonna have a baby.
Me: Who will the baby be?
Kid: Jesus.
Me: Is Jesus just a regular boy?
Kid: No.
Me: Who is he gonna be?
Kid: A ruler of the world.
Me: A ruler of the world like a president or a king?
Kid: No.
Me: How?
Kid: He made the earth, he made everything, he even made himself!
Me: Kind of! God was not made. God always was. There was never a time when there was no God, ’cause that’s what we mean when we say ‘God’: That nobody made him. So, when the angel said to Mary, ‘You’re going to have a baby,’ what did she say?
Kid: ‘But I’m not even married!’
Me: And what did the angel say?
Kid: I don’t know.
Me: The angel said, ‘Don’t worry, this baby comes from God, and God will take care of you.”
Kid: But he is God
Me: It’s confusing, huh?
Kid: I know. Maybe God had a duplicator machine.
Me: Okay. So, anyway, so what did Mary say? Did she say, ‘Heck no, I don’t want any part of that?’
Kid: No.
Me: So what did she say?
Kid: ‘Thank you.’

This is not strictly scriptural, but doesn’t it sound right? What do you say what someone offers you Jesus? You say “thank you.” And he will never take advantage of your gratitude, or use it against you, because he’s not a regular boy.

Many times over the years, from many people, I’ve gotten the advice to simply be quiet, simply rest in Jesus. This is not bad advice, but I don’t think people realize how aspirational it comes across, to an anxious person. It’s sort of like telling an unemployed person to have a nest egg for their retirement. That does sound wonderful, but how to get there?

Well, if you’re an anxious pray-er who would like to rest more in prayer, just saying “Thank you” is a good way to start. Or even just remembering, “I am here because someone is offering me Jesus” is a good way to start. You don’t have to know exactly what it all means; it’s more like you’re acknowledging that you’re there in a receptive mode, or that you would like to be. It’s simple, it’s honest, and frankly, it puts the ball in Jesus’ court. When you go to Mass, you show up because you  know (or even maybe you just hope, or would like to believe) Jesus is coming; and when He does, you say, “Thank you.” When the sacrifice of the Mass happens at the altar, I try to remember to say “thank you.” If I’m able to receive communion, I try to remember to say “thank you.”

And that’s it. That’s the whole thing. You can elaborate on this approach and you can certainly grow in sincerity as planted seeds take root; but I suspect you can’t improve on it. Because Jesus is not a regular boy. 

 

 

 

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A version of this essay was first published in The Catholic Weekly on August 9, 2002.

Image: Andrzej Otrębski, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s for supper? Vol. 277: Lamb

Yesterday, Epiphany, we went to Mass.

IN OUR DINING ROOM.

I still can’t even believe it happened, and I will never ever forget it. This is why I’ve been pushing so hard to finish the dining room renovations! I got it all more or less done in time (and I will write a whole other thing about that with copious before and after photos). Meantime, here’s our What’s for Supper for the week, including Epiphany, when WE HAD MASS IN OUR DINING ROOM.

ON OUR DINING ROOM TABLE. I still can’t even believe it. 

SATURDAY
New Year’s

Oh wait, first, we did have homemade sushi for New Year’s Eve, as planned. My sushi rolls turned out okay, not amazing. But the sushi party was fun, and there was lots of tasty food.

Everybody found something they liked, including the cat.

We watched a Marx Brothers movie (the one where they go to college. A college widow is a woman who dates college students and then still lives in town after they graduate, thereby making her a “widow” of sorts every year when they leave. We have to look it up every few years) and then an MST3K episode (Reptilicus). Corrie could have stayed up all night, I believe. 

And now I also have to tell you about one of the most boneheaded things I have done in the kitchen in ages. Earlier in the week, I had scouted around town and found a large and beautiful lamb shank, probably six pounds. I intended to roast it on New Year’s Eve and serve it with pita bread for a nice little treat. So on Saturday afternoon, I got all the other ingredients and all the stuff for sushi, and got home just in time to season the lamb and get it in the oven before we need to get the sushi rice going. 

And . . . I couldn’t find it. I could not find this rather large piece of lamb, which, as I mentioned, is at least six pounds. How do you lose a hunk of lamb? True, we have two refrigerators, but we ended up taking everything out of both of them, and I simply could not find that lamb. I knew I had put it in there! I felt like I was losing my mind! The only thing I could find was this piece of pork, and where did that even come from? Didn’t I already cook the pork a few days ago for those kind of mediocre . . . nachos . . . 

Oh no. 

Yes, friends, I had made a terrible mistake. Somehow, I was so busy and stressed out and dopey that I had tossed a giant $7-a-pound lamb shank into the crock pot and boiled the hell out of it, shredded it, and served it on top of store brand tortilla chips with wads of melted cheese. LAMB NACHOS. We had lamb nachos, and we didn’t even know it. 

Here’s a picture of the lamb nachos that I thought were pork nachos.

I am eating them on a box of shoes and miscellaneous crap because I was in the middle of putting in a new dining room floor and was *sob* just gulping down my food, not even really tasting it. 

So . . . we just had sushi for New Year’s Eve, no lamb, and Damien fried up some frozen dumplings and heated up some egg rolls and dumplings, and it was plenty.

You know, when I was working on the floor, at one point there was a big gaping hole leading directly to the basement, the the dog of course came along and instantly lost his Christmas ball down the hole. And he could not figure out what had happened. Ball . . .no ball! No ball. No ball! Where ball go? There was ball, now ball no here! No ball! Was ball . . . but now . . . no ball! Even after we got it for him, you could see that there was still this cold pocket of confusion in his brain, and I still think that even to this day, he hasn’t completely gotten over it. 

Well, that’s what I was like with this friggin’ lamb. I knew I had cooked it and eaten it and it was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. But I still spent the next few hours opening boxes and lifting cushions and peeking under tables, like it was going to be there waiting for me. Which would be weird! But I couldn’t help myself.  

A fitting way to end the year. 

ANYWAY. 
SUNDAY
NEW YEAR’S DAY
BIRTHDAY!

Baby New Year requested her traditional birthday meal, calzones and tiramisu. The calzones are my job, and I have a reliable but unspectacular method with pre-made pizza dough and sauce. Everyone likes it well enough, so I don’t mess with it.

Damien made the tiramisu using this recipe, and it was light and creamy and delicious as always. 

She elected to go visit an art museum with some of her friends in lieu of a party. 

MONDAY
Sheet pan lemon chicken on potatoes, garlic knots

I had a bunch of chicken thighs and no clear plan, so I tried out this NYT recipe, more or less. I skimmed, I skimmed. Basically you lay down a bunch of scallions, then a bunch of sliced potatoes, then some chicken thighs. You’re supposed to save out half the potatoes and arrange them around the chicken, so they probably would have come out more crisp than mine did if I had done that. You drizzle olive oil and sprinkle on plenty of salt and pepper on each layer. Then you cook it, allegedly for 35 minutes. For whatever reason, it took more like an hour and 15 minutes. Some chicken be like that. 

Then you remove the food from the pan, deglaze it, throw in some lemon juice and capers, and I also added some white wine, and make a little sauce to spoon over the chicken.

Serve with more lemon. And you can see the little girls also made up a bunch of garlic knots for us out of pizza dough. 

It was fine. It definitely would have been better if I had distributed the food over two pans to crisp it up more. But it was super easy to make, and I can imagine all kinds of combinations of things instead of the scallions and the potatoes. So there you go. I do love lemons and capers.

TUESDAY
Banh mi

Some of the family is tired of banh mi, but some of them still love it, and I happen to be a member of the latter group, so guess what’s staying in the rotation. 

Yes, I used the pork that was supposed to be nachos. A fitting way to bring closure to my lamb grief. My Lammkummer. 

WEDNESDAY
Burgers

Nothing to report. This seems like eleven years ago. 

THURSDAY
Shawarma, stuffed grape leaves, king cakes

So Thursday was Epiphany, the big day I had been pushing to get ready for all week. I, addition to putting in a new floor and trim, I bought a breakfast nook off Craigslist. I have been thinking of a breakfast nook ever since we moved into this house, and the perfect one finally turned up at the perfect time. 

The only thing wrong with it was that it smells like cigarette smoke. But this turns out to be not a catastrophe when it’s wood. (It was a catastrophe when I bought a giant curved leather couch that turned out to smell like cigarette smoke. I solved that by not sitting on the couch for several years, and then throwing the couch away.) I scrubbed it down with vinegar and then just let it air out, and the smell is almost gone. 

It came with a square table which has a Patriot’s logo stained and woodburned into it. I may eventually start using that as our main table. But that was not the table I was going to use when we had Mass at our house. Instead, Lena scoured and scrubbed and bleached the heck out of the old wood and tile one we’ve been using for almost 25 years, and I covered it with a fresh white cloth, and . . . guys, we had Mass on our dining room table.

I supplied our friend Fr. Matthew with some candles and a bowl to wash his hands, and he brought his Mass kit and a little bag with hosts for everyone in the family, and we set up chairs facing the table, and we had Mass.

I didn’t take any pictures during Mass, because I wanted to be as present as possible. But if you are picturing an intensely reverent atmosphere, that ain’t it. We were running a little behind schedule and made the tactical error of just throwing the dog into his crate, rather than giving him time to figure out that Fr. Matthew is an okay guy. So the entire Mass was set to the horrible music of a frantic boxer expressing profound self-pity and woe, woe, woe, woe, woooooooe. Then, right after the Sanctus, the kitchen timer went off for the shawarma, and then of course the smoke alarm went off. In other words, there is no way it could have been any other way, and Jesus came to us, and it was beautiful and ridiculous and holy. And the Benadryl we gave the dog eventually kicked in, sort of. 

I did take some photos of the rest of the evening! Pardon me while I do a bit of a photo dump. We did the Epiphany house blessing, with the blessed chalk on the door way 

and holy water in the four corners of the main rooms. 

and the kids did some of the readings for the blessing. 

Then we had chicken shawarma and stuffed grape leaves and fruit. We had the chicken with pita, yogurt sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes, various olives, feta, and hummus; and grapes and pomegranates. The stuffed grape leaves were a mish mash of various recipes, but they were filled with rice seasoned mainly with mint and dill. 

They were pretty good, if not very tidy. I definitely prefer fresh grape leaves. These were from a jar. 

Then we at the two Rouse’s king cakes Fr. Matthew carried on a plane from Louisiana, because that’s the kind of priest he is

and then we had some piano time,

some guitar and ukulele and kalimba time,

and some more animal time. 

Corrie sang all the verses of “Mississippi,” her favorite murder ballad, and some of us discovered we can sing in harmony when pressed. And then we all got a blessing and then it was time to go! I have never had a more wonderful Epiphany day. 

I will tell you, when Fr. Matthew suggested having Mass at our house, I almost turned him down, because it seemed overwhelming, and we’re not the kind of people who etc. etc. But if you ever have the opportunity, please do it. It was a joy. 

And good grief, you guys. I just realized. The last thing I did in 2021 was lose the lamb that was supposed to go on our table.

The first thing we did in 2022 was . . . this. 

Well. 

And now this seems like a terrible anti-climax, but this is still a food blog, so. . .

FRIDAY
Quesadillas

Having quesadillas today! And then I am going to drop dead, because I am exhausted. 

 

Calzones

This is the basic recipe for cheese calzones. You can add whatever you'd like, just like with pizza. Warm up some marinara sauce and serve it on the side for dipping. 

Servings 12 calzones

Ingredients

  • 3 balls pizza dough
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 3-4 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-2 egg yolks for brushing on top
  • any extra fillings you like: pepperoni, olives, sausage, basil, etc.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400. 

  2. Mix together filling ingredients. 

  3. Cut each ball of dough into fourths. Roll each piece into a circle about the size of a dinner plate. 

  4. Put a 1/2 cup or so of filling into the middle of each circle of dough circle. (You can add other things in at this point - pepperoni, olives, etc. - if you haven't already added them to the filling) Fold the dough circle in half and pinch the edges together tightly to make a wedge-shaped calzone. 

  5. Press lightly on the calzone to squeeze the cheese down to the ends. 

  6. Mix the egg yolks up with a little water and brush the egg wash over the top of the calzones. 

  7. Grease and flour a large pan (or use corn meal or bread crumbs instead of flour). Lay the calzones on the pan, leaving some room for them to expand a bit. 

  8. Bake about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.  

 

Pork banh mi

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1.5 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

 

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

Chicken shawarma

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs boned, skinned chicken thighs
  • 4-5 red onions
  • 1.5 cups lemon juice
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs, 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 entire head garlic, crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix marinade ingredients together, then add chicken. Put in ziplock bag and let marinate several hours or overnight.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425.

  3. Grease a shallow pan. Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it in a single layer on the pan, and top with the onions (sliced or quartered). Cook for 45 minutes or more. 

  4. Chop up the chicken a bit, if you like, and finish cooking it so it crisps up a bit more.

  5. Serve chicken and onions with pita bread triangles, cucumbers, tomatoes, assorted olives, feta cheese, fresh parsley, pomegranates or grapes, fried eggplant, and yogurt sauce.

 

Yogurt sauce

Ingredients

  • 32 oz full fat Greek yogurt
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • fresh parsley or dill, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Use for spreading on grilled meats, dipping pita or vegetables, etc. 

 

Have you heard the Maasai Creed?

The truth is, no matter how much we believe what we recite at Mass, it’s rare that the old, familiar words stand out as fresh and powerful.

It’s all too easy to let habit and familiarity take over, and to stop hearing what they have to say. We don’t even realize we’ve stopped listening; our brains just say, “Oh, this old thing again” and check out.

Sometimes the best way to deal with this is to deliberately, firmly take your attention in hand and direct it toward the old, familiar thing.

Whatever else you can say about Catholics, you can’t accuse us of despising something just because it’s old! The words of the Mass are very rich, and if we’re open to it, we can often perceive something brand new, or newly exciting, springing up from that ancient soil.

But it’s also legitimate to strive to hear that same old, ancient thing in a slightly new way, to remind you how confounding it really is. This is what happened to me the other day, when I stumbled across the Maasai Creed.

As the name suggests, it was written by and for the African Maasai people, with a group known as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1960. It is essentially the same as the one that we recite every week . . . and yet just different enough that it knocked me flat.

I believe I’m going to print it out and hang it in my house, so the kids can see it, too, because even in their tender youth, they’re probably already allowing repetition to dull their ears when we say the creed.

Our relationship with God shouldn’t require constant thrills and novelties. He values fidelity through the dull valleys of our faith.

But when He does put something fresh and interesting in our paths, it behooves us to stop and enjoy it!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image by Nicola Stockton from Pixabay

Does the creed disrupt the flow of your worship?

It’s fairly easy to get carried away by whatever kind of flow our life is busy with. The agitated flow of busyness, the aimless flow of boredom, the flooding flow of panic, the swirling flow of temptation. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that unmoving God has planted the rock of his Church, creed and all, for the express purpose of disrupting that flow.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by David Dixon (detail) (Creative Commons)

Five pieces of advice for pastors (and a thank-you)

Last week, a priest responded to the article “Five Rules for a Royal Bride” with a humble request: “I wish Catholics in the pews would write us new pastors and new ordained priests advices like these! Y’all help us to be men of God, men for others, and men that have joy in their lives! Send me your five advices before I become pastor . . .”

Can do.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by photographer Matthew Lomanno, part of his visual essay North Country Priest. Used with permission.

On fly ashes and flexibility

The Church doesn’t say, “Oh, well, no one should have to swallow a bug, so let’s just say that, if there’s a fly in there, it’s not really Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. Do what you like.” No. But neither does she say, “If you really, truly believe in the sacrament, then you have no other choice. Down the hatch, or you’re out.” She makes allowances for our humanity without denying Christ’s divinity. She is, in short, incarnational all the way down.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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Image:  By Aravind Sivaraj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

They said my kids don’t belong at Mass. Now what?

Hey, parents, how did Mass go yesterday?

Let me guess: Everyone was exhausted and cranky, the kids were still sticky and vibrating with last night’s sugar, several faces showed traces of whiskers and fake blood, and all in all, you kept thinking how nice it would be to venerate the saints any other day at all but this one.

The only thing that could make it harder? If another parishioner went out of his way to make it harder. Yes, it happens! If it’s never happened to you, you’re lucky.

Yesterday, a mom asked me how to get yourself to go back to Mass after it happens once too often. It wasn’t just a passing glare, sigh, or stink-eye from a crabby fellow Catholic, she explained, but the person actually hissed in her ear that her children do not belong at Mass. That she is doing a bad job as a mother. Incredibly, the complainer sought her out after Mass to double down and say it again: Your children don’t belong here. Do not bring them here.

Let’s be clear: This is a message straight from Hell. The Mass is humanity’s main source of grace and life, and if no one goes, then no one will have grace or life. Telling parents their kids don’t belong at Mass is like trampling down every seedling you find, then clucking your tongue over the poor harvest.

 

So, yes, children belong. Yes, even if there is a cry room and a nursery and a separate kiddie liturgy available.

You as parents may believe this with at least part of your heart. But what do you do about the people who don’t believe it? What if the prospect of setting yourself up for another public flogging next Sunday just feels crushingly impossible? You know how much you need Christ, but you also know you’re going to spend the entire hour feeling tense, angry, guilty, and defensive; and it’s not as if the kids are begging to be there, either. You know you need what Christ has to offer, and you know grace isn’t a matter of how you feel. But even knowing all of this, sometimes it just seems pointless, utterly pointless, to go. What to do?

Sometime before Sunday, talk to the priest. This may or may not work. Some priests over-value silence, and some underestimate how hard it is to keep kids quiet. Priests are human, and no human responds well to all situations.

But many priests will be horrified to hear that families are being discouraged from coming to Mass. When the pastor insists from the pulpit that true pro-lifers want, need, and love children in the pews, and insists that we act that way, it changes the culture of the parish. So ask your priest if he will say something, or put a note in the bulletin, or distribute some of these encouraging cards. Have more than one conversation, if need be. Yes, the priest is busy, but your complaint is not trivial.

Make a simple strategy ahead of time. Not necessarily a plan for how to manage your kids (although that’s important too; although some mornings, not arriving naked is triumph enough), but a plan for how to respond if someone does harass you. When I’m already frazzled by a rambunctious toddler, I’m not going to be able to improvise a sensible response to an equally unreasonable adult (hereafter referred to as “The Hisser”). It’s invaluable to have an all-purpose tool at the ready.

Suggested stock phrases: “Thanks, we’re doing the best we can!” or “We’re having a rough time. Let’s pray for each other” or “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog.” Well, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea. Smile blandly, stare just over The Hisser’s left ear, and repeat, repeat, repeat. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Just having a ready response and sticking to it helps you regain control.

Third, enlist help. This is a tall order, I know. If you had an army of helpers surrounding you, you wouldn’t be struggling to begin with. But often, we see our pews as little isolation chambers, everyone turning up with their own personal issues; but the Mass is supposed to be a communal experience that extends beyond the sign of peace. So look around and see if you can spot a sympathetic person to act as a buffer between you and The Hisser. People pick on parents because they can. If they discover those parents have bodyguards, they will be less bold.

Find a spot close to another family or a friendly elderly couple. Gather up your courage and whisper, “Hey, listen, could you help me out? I’m trying to teach my kids to behave, but sometimes they get away from me, and it would be so great to feel like not everyone’s mad at me! If anyone gives us a hard time, could I ask you to stick up for me?” It’s weird, I know. But it’s hard to imagine someone turning you down, and many people (especially those who wish they had kids of their own) might be honored.

Prepare spiritually. This one is indispensable. We rightly think of the Mass as a meal where we are nourished (although that nourishment may not be a lovely, cozy experience every time), but it is also where we go to offer ourselves to the Father along with Christ. The Eucharist may be an unbloody sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean we won’t come away feeling bruised.

Sometimes Good Friday feels more present than Easter Sunday — even at Mass. Remember that Christ, too, was mocked. Christ, too, was castigated. Christ was told that He didn’t understand how to worship properly, that He was dishonoring God’s house, that He didn’t belong there. He knew it wasn’t true, but don’t you think it hurt Him anyway?

As you enter the Church, offer what is to come up to the Father. It is real suffering, and a worthy sacrifice to dedicate.

 

Remember you won’t live in Babyland forever. I cannot say it often enough: This stage passes. You may feel like you’re going to spend the rest of your life getting dressed up once a week to be screamed at in a drafty lobby for an hour, but it will pass. Kids grow up. They turn a corner. Even if you have baby after baby, the older kids can help with the younger kids, and they can set a wonderful example for their siblings, too. Babyland is intense, but it is not a life sentence.

You may have to find another parish. I believe in blooming where you’re planted, and I believe in improving the soil when you can. But some churches simply don’t want kids. So shake the dust from your sandals and let them have their wish — not vindictively, but because you and your kids don’t deserve to feel like pariahs simply for existing.

Once you’ve found a friendlier home, let the old pastor know why you’ve left, in as civil terms as you can manage. If enough people do this, he’ll notice the trend and maybe turn things around before it’s too late.

Just don’t leave the Catholic Church altogether! If you have left for a time, do come back. No welcome is warm enough to substitute for the sacraments.

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Image: Detail of window in Lansdowne Church in Glasgow; photo by Tom Donald via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Say it again

She was once brilliant (quantum-physics-as-a-hobby brilliant) and startlingly witty, with no time for nonsense. But now she has Alzheimer’s, and all she has is time and nonsense. Now she says things like, “I can use that for a sunapat. Sunapat with a T. I don’t know, I’m falling out of a tree.” Her nonsense often has a desperate, frustrated air, as if she knows people don’t understand her and she needs to try even harder to get her message across.

But I did hear her, when she could speak. I did hear her, when I did not even realize I was listening.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Photo via MaxPixel (public domain)

Why do I take my noisy little kids to Mass?

We are there to praise and worship God, to be spiritually nourished, and to unite our lives with the life of Christ as He offers Himself up to the Father. We are not there because we bought our ticket and are entitled to a certain experience.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.