Monday, November 11, 2013

The "Sin" of the Week: On Missing Mass to Care for Children

My apologies in advance for the rambling and jumping from topic to topic and whining and general stream of consciousness in this post.  Also... I'm beginning to wonder if I can't say anything in less than two thousand words.  Apparently I've had a lot on my mind.  And it all just exploded in this blog post:

I woke up this morning and the idea of going to Mass made me wince.  And then I realized that it was because everything hurt.  Everything.

You see, yesterday I had this great idea.  I was going to finish all of the laundry.

I have a major laundry problem in my house.  The washer and dryer are in the basement, which is absolutely not Maggie proof.  And since most of my time involves at least a basic level of supervision that is required for our daringly brilliant three year old, my time in the basement is minimal.  Even at night, I don't really feel comfortable going down there because I worry about what's going on upstairs.  Has she figured out how to open windows?  Has she destroyed yet another baby gate?  Is she dumping every pin in my sewing area onto the ground.

Needless to say, the laundry situation was dire.  I'd try to play catch up, but it was never done.  And it hasn't been anywhere near caught up with since Patrick was born.

So yesterday I decided it was time for that to change.  I hauled the laundry up into the kitchen where I could watch my three little trouble makers and I folded.  Then I carried it back down, load by load and put it all away (all the shelves that we use are downstairs, since the only time I have to put clothes away are when they're asleep... theoretically at least).  I was thrilled with how much I got done.  Minus meal time and baby time breaks I'd say I got in a solid eight hours of work (I did a some cleaning too).

Then this morning arrived and I realized that I'm not twenty anymore and that my mind had written checks that my body wasn't thrilled about cashing.  It hurt.  Everything seemed to hurt.

I started to reason my way to a solution that felt a little more bearable.  It was cold outside.  And still dark.  The sun would be up by the time we walked to Mass, but I still couldn't convince myself to bundle everyone up and go.  I have an idea, I said to myself, knowing that the thought in my mind was actually a horrible idea.  We'll go tonight.  We'll make it work.  I'll feed everyone.  They'll be all ready for bed.  And we'll go to the six o'clock Mass. And even if it's horrible (which it is half the time anyways) at least we'll all be together.

I knew that it was a bad idea.  I did.  But it seemed better than anything else I could come up with.

Four o'clock rolled around and the bad idea turned into a near impossibility.  Maggie and Sadie ran into each other and Maggie hit her head hard and while a part of me felt relieved that she was actually crying about something like bumping her head (because she would have been laughing about it three months ago), I was faced with the slow, dawning realization that there was no way I could take her to Mass when she was feeling the way she was clearly feeling.

I knew so much more then...
So I sighed and held her in my lap while she sobbed and let go of the idea of making it and told Paul that I thought he'd probably be going by himself.  Then I tucked the babies into bed and put the house back together so it would be ready for the two appointments we have tomorrow (therapy and the start of the study) and finally sat down to rest.

Which is when the internet sucked me in.

Back in the day I was much more likely to be drawn into internet debates.  If someone was wrong somewhere on the internet I was ready to argue about it.  Maybe I've mellowed with time.  Maybe I just don't have quite as much energy to spare as I used to.  Whatever the reason, it doesn't happen as often as it used to.  In fact, it hardly happens at all.

But tonight I came across a conversation in which the question was posed, "can a mother miss Mass to care for a young child."

And the answers I saw smarted.

In this case the child was sleeping.  The overwhelming answer she received was no.  It went beyond that though.  Over and over again she was told a) that the priest that told her it was a reason to miss was wrong and b) that she was sinning because caring for children is not a reason to miss Mass.

Hold on, I thought.  I mean, if you've been around here long, you know I encourage parents to take their little ones to Mass.  I was limping into Mass 8 days after I had my first c-section.  In fact, I've been in Mass the Sunday after each of my three c-sections, cradling a baby in my arms.  And I absolutely do believe that my children have benefited from it.  Sadie's love of and desire for the Eucharist warms my heart.  And I was grinning ear to ear after Maggie popped her binkie out of her mouth and attempted to rush up to the priest while signing "more, more, more" a few weeks ago.

The idea, however, that the care of children isn't a valid reason for missing Mass simply isn't true.  It brought to mind the phrase "more Catholic than the Pope."  We can't take our personal opinions about issues and elevate them above what is actually taught.

I went back to last week in my mind.  I'd been trying not to think about it.

We walked into Mass and Maggie was suddenly excited.  She tried to bolt forward and go into the church.  For once she actually wanted to be there.  But Patrick was already fussing and I knew I couldn't take him in while he was in a mood.  When I stopped Mae, she went completely rigid and fell to the floor screaming.  My hands were full with Patrick and I struggled to scoop her up and pull her onto my lap to quiet her, while people nearby tried not to stare at the scene that was unfolding.  Finally she quieted down, but Patrick was unhappy.  I stood and jiggled him.  Finally he fell asleep and I relaxed.  We'd be fine, I told myself.  We'd survived and the kids were calm.

Then I noticed that his skin was pale and blotched with red and suddenly it became clear that he was having a reaction to something.  To what?  I wondered.  His breathing was fine but red bumps were appearing quickly.  What had I eaten?  I've been so careful.  What could it have been?  A new allergy? It was clearly some sort of allergy.  I listened to his breathing and fought waves of fear.

Finally it was time for communion.  A young woman in the back had come over and offered to help me bring the kids forward and I accepted her help as we walked forward through the doors.  And then the wall of incense hit me and I stopped and backpedaled, kicking myself for not realizing earlier, and suddenly acutely aware of the fact that the inhaler wasn't in my pocket.  I retreated to the narthex.

Incense... the reason we can no longer attend the latin Mass... the "other thing" that Patrick (and Sadie and Maggie to varying degrees) is very much allergic to.

Thankfully I was able to receive the Eucharist (the young lady who had offered to help arranged it)... but I have to admit, the experience, altogether, left me shaken.  I thought about writing about it last week, but I couldn't bring myself to put my thoughts into words.  Perhaps it's because while struggling through Mass here I can't help but feel completely and utterly alone, even when a kindly stranger offers to help.  I guess Mass is, in a way, the place where I come the face to face with the fact that here in Michigan I am far from my friends and family and with the exception of Paul, who's at school or work the vast majority of the time, I'm on my own with the kids.  Before therapy began it wasn't unusual for me to go a month without speaking to another grown up (other than Paul who's usually gone about 16 hours a day...).

For the most part it's been okay.  It's been this way for over a year.  I knew law school was going to be hard for all of us.  It's a sacrifice.  Besides, most of the time I'm too busy to notice.

Having an extremely introverted personality makes it easier.  I'm not a fan of getting together with big groups and it seems to me that more and more that most friend-making-activities as a grown up involve big groups.

In ways I guess the overwhelmingness of the diagnosis has brought me face to face with my isolation here.  With Paul in law school I am completely on my own.  But the idea of even thinking of a way to change it and get out and do something social, is even more exhausting.  Almost as exhausting as thinking about taking my three to Mass on any day when I'm feeling less than 100%.

About 90% of the people involved in the conversation I was in said that caring for young children isn't a reason to miss Mass.  Lots of people named large numbers of kids and said that if they could do it with five or six or seven, anyone could.  And part of me wanted to say:  Here, take her for an hour.  I guarantee it will change your entire perspective (although I wouldn't do that to Mae!).  

Thankfully, I don't have to measure up to some super mom's idea of what a mother of little ones should be or do.  I have to follow the teachings of the Church.  And while I do strive to go above and beyond, while I hope that I'm being led stumbling towards heroic virtue, there are times when I'm very, very grateful that in her merciful understanding of our vocations the Church recognizes that there are times when we struggle to reach the bare minimum.

Maybe that's why she gives us a bare minimum.  And perhaps, like the story of the widows mite, God will recognize in these times, that the little that we had to give actually meant far more than outward appearances reflected.


  1. Sometimes it is so hard isn't it?!?! We try to be the best we can be and someone comes along to absolutely knock the wind out of us and make us second guess ourselves again! I missed Mass last week because my son was sick. I made it to PSR to teach my class because my mom stayed with him that morning but I am his mom, not someone else and so I left after PSR while my husband went to mass with our other kids. I ended up having to take my son to the emergency clinic and found out he had a double ear infection and strep throat, none of which he's ever had before (and he's 6!) He had been spiking fevers of 103 all made sense now. He was so very sick and he needed me...not my mom, or another family member. Me, his mom. Sometimes you do what you have to do. I missed Mass that week but I remind myself that we do the best we can do and we ask God to make up the difference. I don't miss Mass just because I want to and He knows that. Anyone elses opinion is just that...their opinion. Hang in there mama! You are doing a super job!!

  2. Every time I judge another mother for her "failings" or "wrongness" or "sins" - the universe takes swift action to teach me an unpleasant lesson in judging. You do the best you can, God understands that we have limitations. You are doing more than 99.99999% of Catholic families to raise a faith-filled family and live the gospel. You should feel good about that.

    If I think about it - of course God wants us to attend Mass whenever we can. But is He the kind of God that looks at a struggling mother, who has little to no help raising her kids, who is living on a shoestring budget, who has a child newly diagnosed with special needs, an infant, a husband that is gone for long hours, and who works in her "spare" time and says, "Damn you for missing Mass once in a blue moon!"? Is that our God? Is that the one we worship and call wonderful? I do not think so.

  3. I think those judgmental and very self-righteous moms need to be soundly whacked on the head with a Catechism of the Catholic Church. where caring for Infants, e.g., young children, is clearly stated as a just reason for missing Mass (#2181.)

  4. What dixieeagle said. I suggest a hardcover edition.

    Also, it never ceases to disgust me just how many Catholic moms out there seem to spend most of their time telling other Catholic moms that "you're doing it wrong." Nurse during Mass, even under a cover? Immodest, and causing their husbands and sons to sin! Bring a bottle to Mass for your three-month-old? How dare you not nurse! Your two-year-old is sitting quietly in the pew and looking at a picture Bible during Mass rather than watching every detail of the Mass? You're teaching her bad habits and catering to her desire to be entertained! Say a family Rosary at night? Child abuse! They can't concentrate for that long! Say a decade of the Rosary every night as a family? Your kids will grow up to be gay multi-pierced atheists because you aren't requiring them to say a full Rosary every evening!

    ad. nauseam.

    I swear, if they spent half the time building up other moms as they did criticizing them, then we'd be living in a much holier and pleasanter world.

    I suppose that in the long term, this is the end result of a culture incapable of minding its own business, but that's another rant for another day. You're doing well, Cam. :) Don't let them get you down.

    I understand a little bit what it's like to live far from family and friends; when I got married, I moved four hours away from the city I called home and all the friends I had there. I have no family in the area. It was completely worth it, of course, but still... Looking ahead to when kids come, I can see myself in a similar position to yours, and while I'm also an introvert, I know I need to start working on building up a social circle in order to thrive better, emotionally speaking, than I would without it. Easier said than done for the average introvert, though, as you know...sigh.

  5. I am so glad the Church has a requirement to attend Mass on Sunday. That way we really have to weigh our consciences on why we missed Mass. I know for myself, I hate to miss, even when I am sick. At those times I think, am I really too sick to go? I try to get there, but if I must miss, then I know I did so for a good reason. I am the caretaker for my elderly parent who is incapacitated and must not be alone so if no one, can be here to stay with her so I can go, I do not feel badly for missing. So, it seems we must know and respect the requirement to go, and justly judge our situation. If afterwards we feel perhaps we really could have gone, but didn't want to, then we go to confession, repent, and let it go. God bless. Bonnie

  6. Bonnie, while your love for the Eucharist is wonderful, PLEASE stay home if you're sick. Even if you're not feeling terrible, you could come in contact with someone (child, elderly person, or - like my husband - on an immunosuppressant medication) for whom an infection could be serious or deadly.


  7. I wish more people would respect their right to miss Mass for just reasons. Is it really better to go when you are sick, potentially infecting an elderly person, an infant or someone who is immune-compromised? Is it really better to go when your children are so tired and overstimulated that they cry and fuss and misbehave the whole time? Haters gonna hate, but for my money I say if The Church says you can stay home to care for your kids, or you can stay home when you are sneezy and sick - then respect Her and not the sanctimonious parishioners.

  8. Oh, internet moms...feeding their dozen children organic food they grew themselves while simultaneously earning two master's degrees and only needing four hours' sleep, and if they can do it no one else has any excuse!

    Ok, so that was a bit catty and unkind of me. But really, if you're sick and/or your children are sick, no one benefits from being out and about.

  9. I was raised with the idea that the obligation to attend Mass is very, very serious and we must make every possible effort to do so. If we were traveling, we made sure to still go, if we had something going on Sunday morning, my parents made sure to take us Saturday night. If they were calling for a big snow storm (or hurricane or something) on Sunday morning, we made sure to go Saturday evening, just to be sure. If we were sick, obviously they didn't take us (although a minor cold iddn't count, and we still went). But, as a teen, there were a lot of weekends we were gone for 4-H trips or conferences and my parents made sure we still went...they either arranged for us to go with another adult who was chaperoning the trip and Catholic or drove further to take us on Sunday evening when we got back, but we always, always, always went, even if it wasn't convenient or we had to go to a different church.

    It sounds like your current Mass schedule isn't working (you taking all 3 kids in the morning and Paul going by himself in the evening) I would look for another church that has a Mass time that is more convenient for all of you..maybe something late in the morning or even some churches have early afternoon Masses...even if it's not your regular church or your favorite church, (unless you don't have a vehicle and can only go to a church you walk to), but assuming you could drive somewhere I would definitely consider driving further to find a Mass that fits your schedule better...even if it ends up being a Mass in Spanish or a Mass with music you don't like, it's still preferable to missing (and probably preferable to you guys going separately which sounds REALLY hard). Or if you find an afternoon Mass and you have kids napping, maybe you could go with Sadie and leave Mae and Patrick home with Paul (or whatever combination of kids works) for you. Maybe Saturday afternoon would wrk better...maybe there is an early Sat afternoon Mass somewhere (like 4 PM)?

    Yes..the care of children is a viable reason to miss Mass, but we need to be careful...and really think about if there is a way we could go while working with our situation. When I read about the care of children, I think of it in the sense of the care of children who you can't take with you (because they are sick or something)..not just the general care of children, because children are welcome at Catholic churches. Maybe there is a church which is more child friendly or a better set-up or something

    Please don't take this as judgemental or "more Catholic" or anything. And if you don't have a vehicle and can't drive to other churches, then disregard everything I said. :). But, I do think Mass is important enough and the obligation is serious enough that it's worth doing some searching to find a time/place that will work for your whole least within reason...I wouldn't drive 2 hours or anything, but I would drive 20-30 minutes and go to a church that may not be my favorite if I had to or that was the best option for our family.

    When it all comes down to it, only you can judge if you had a just reason for missing...but I do think it's something to maybe talk over with a priest and also really think about if there are other options available so you could still go.

    Again, please don't take this as judgemental or "more Catholic" or anything and I obviously don't know your whole situation. Peace.

    1. The main problem is that we can literally only go to the 9 am Mass. We've tried other Masses at other places and Mae literally screams the entire time. Screams and goes stiff as a board and slams herself into the floor. We've tried other places. Other times at other places. Other times at this place. The only place she doesn't flip out completely is the 9 am Mass at this particular church... but you are right that the 9 am Mass isn't work great either. But it's at least less traumatic than anything else we've tried.

  10. Why not go with Sadie in the morning and leave the little ones with Paul? I know you feel it is important that all the kids go, but maybe for a short time you could give yourself (and them) a break. Obviously compulsory Mass attendance has not "made" Mae behave better, so maybe cut her some slack and try again in 6 months after her therapy has really had a chance to improve her ability to communicate and behave? That way, you and Sadie can really enjoy the hour and focus on the sacrament vs. wrangling the others. I know you like to give Paul a chance to sleep late on Sundays, but if it means tears, stress and an unpleasant morning for everyone else in the family, make a change! Let Paul rest on the sofa while Mae and Patrick watch a video and eat their breakfast. Have him get up at 8:45 as you're leaving and let him have a nap later in the day. Mass should not be misery.

    1. The main reason is because he sleeps through everything and I mean everything, after being up for around 24 hours. I could be in the room yelling his name and he would sleep through it... so I don't really feel safe leaving Patrick and Mae knowing he wouldn't wake up if something were to happen, for over an hour and a half. Paul gets to bed at about 5 am on Sunday mornings, so it's not really "sleeping late".... it's finally getting to bed after hours of studying and work.

  11. I would not worry about what other people think or say. You are not willfully missing Mass to do whatever you please. You have three small children, one of which is a special needs child. Your husband is working long hours. This situation is mostly temporary. It will change after he takes the bar. When that time comes, he'll be available again to go with you as a family. Do what you can now and don't worry. Give yourself a break.

  12. To be perfectly frank: I have four young kids and I will NOT take them all to Mass without my husband. I won't do it to myself, to them, or to others around us. We will try to finagle other ways to get those of us who are 8 and older to Mass for sure, but one thing is NEVER going to happen, and that is me taking them all by myself. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe some other, better, mother might point out my failings, but when it comes down to me dragging them all myself or staying home to care for them, I'm staying home. Luckily my husband and I are usually able to make something work, but on the occasions that we can't, I skip and don't think twice about it. This is a temporary season in our lives. We will all too soon be childless old women who have all the time in the world to make up for the Masses we missed when we were in the crazy days of raising small children. You do what you can, make do with imperfect circumstances, and move on. God sees how hard you are working, Cam! And you are so right. What is better? The mom who tries her best to make it to Mass whenever it is reasonable, but sometimes needs to skip, or the person who is able to go every day because it is super convenient and easy?

    1. Thank you for this. I am having a breakdown trying to deal with my littles (my stubborn preschooler, in particular), and the thought of bringing all of us to mass by myself (when I might be the one ending up throwing a tantrum) is just too distressing.


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