We will Survive

Tomorrow is Sunday.

Ah, Sunday.

The Lord’s Sabbath Day – a day of rest, inviting us to appreciate our blessings by attending church service and offering praise to God for all of His wonder.

Ugh.

Rest? Are you kidding me?

Kids in Church - Sunday CalendarWhoever said Sunday mornings were restful clearly never brought little children to church.

For my wife and me, getting three kids under the age of four dressed, fed and into our mini-van so we can get to 9 a.m. Mass on time (which rarely happens) is a major feat in itself.

Having our kids behave through the church service and not bring us any shameful glares from others in attendance is an even greater miracle.

Looking back, there have been so many instances where I easily wonder, “What on earth were we thinking going to Mass?”

For starters, a dirty diaper at the most inopportune moment is a classic.

Of course, there was the time when Hugh (now two years of age) was just months old. After having just been breastfed and burped, he managed to vomit on the head of his unsuspecting older brother Isaac, who was standing below him, right beside me.

I kid you not, it was just as if a bird pooped on your shoulder as you were sitting on a park bench.

Thankfully, Isaac didn’t notice a thing and remained very calm as I brought him to the bathroom downstairs, rinsed his hair and dried it.

If only our kids were that calm today.

These days, it seems once we are seated after the opening prayer, Catherine and I must immediately dip into our bag of tricks to keep our boys occupied – and quiet.

Thankfully, our five-month-old baby girl Naomi has been supplying the quiet for the most part, remaining very tranquil and often sleeping cooperatively.

Her brothers, on the other hand, are another story.

Despite being fed a full breakfast at home, there are requests for snacks. So, you can be sure we have some options in our kids’ church bag to keep them satisfied.

Cut up cheese, granola bars, apple slices, yogurt tubes, Cheerios – you name it, we’ve given it (while also opting not to bring food).

After that, it’s a revolving door of toys, books and games to keep them busy.

Kids in Church - Good 2Of course, we’ve got to referee to ensure there’s no fighting over who gets what – and let’s not forget bothering people in front of or behind us to retrieve items thrown or dropped.

Oh yeah, and what about seating location?

Believe me, we’ve tried practically everything – in front, in back, near the music group, in the “family section,” up in the balcony, with friends, away from them.

Like everything else, it’ll work for a little while but then the novelty wears off.

My wife and I used to sit close together during the priest’s homily after intently listening to the Gospel reading. We used to give each other a kiss during the offering of peace and hold hands when reciting the Our Father.

Now, one of us will sarcastically ask the other, “So, how was Mass?” on the way home, since we will have taken turns spending much of the service with the boys out on the mezzanine.

Don’t get me wrong, part of me thinks it’s comical and I know we provide some entertainment for so many at church.

I mean, how could we not?

You can’t tell me a toddler calling out “Hi Mommy!” from the balcony to his mother on the main floor isn’t cute. And what about this same kid making a sprint to the altar to escape his Daddy (a few weeks in a row, I might add), only to laugh about it as his father carries him back to their seats?

Kids in Church - Good 3I suppose the moments of peace do indeed make all of these experiences bearable.

Seeing our boys drop money in the offertory basket and give the usher a high five or having them walk beside me holding my hand on the way to Holy Communion are two such examples.

Dipping their fingers in the holy water upon entering the church to make the sign of the cross and resting in my arms with their head on my shoulder as we sing a hymn are two others.

Yes, I recognize it is all worth it (and, honestly, it’s not as bad as this account might depict). I guess that’s what keeps us returning each week.

Sure, we can take the simple route and stay home because it’s easier with little kids. But what good comes from that?

Kids in Church - Bad 1No, we’re going to keep coming back, persevering with focus on the benefits of praising God in His house, joined in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24 & Hebrews 12:1)

Our faith is important and we wish to celebrate it, teaching it to our children and practicing it with them as a family – no matter how frustrating or challenging it may be at times.

As St. Paul teaches, we will fight the good fight, we will finish the race, and we will keep the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

So if you’re experiencing what we do on so many Sundays, take courage and know you’re not alone.

If, on the other hand, you’ve seen our family or one like ours in your church and have been tempted to judge, please, remember compassion could bring you one step closer to Heaven.

Now then, you’ll have to excuse me – my wife and I need to plan our strategy for tomorrow.

Soft like a Sponge

My wife and I recently took our kids to a family camp for a summer holiday, looking to relax away from the city while creating new memories.

I should point out this was technically a faith-based retreat, as the families attending were all Catholic and seeking to grow in identity as families rooted in Christ’s love and teaching.

One of the activities at the camp was communal meal time. Families all ate together in the dining hall at their respective tables, while pitching in with clean-up chores afterwards.

Personally, I loved dishwashing duties.

With soap suds halfway up my arms and a sponge in hand, it was gratifying to help out after each meal while chatting with people about a wide variety of topics.

Sponge 1As the week progressed, I found myself more and more focused on the sponge when I was washing dishes – all thanks to a priest, believe it or not.

You see, during a morning Mass early in the week, the on-site priest made a comparison in his homily between a person’s heart and both a sponge and a rock.

As we were reminded, Jesus teaches our hearts are to be open, merciful and filled with love for everyone. In other words, they are to be soft like a sponge.

Conversely, people’s hearts can also be jaded, closed to those different from them in any way or scarred by unfortunate life experiences, thus making them extremely hard like a rock.

I was struck by the image of a sponge, as well as the Biblical passage which cautions us against hardening our hearts. (Hebrews 3:15)

Sponge 2Reaching for the sponge each day or night after a meal that week, I couldn’t help but think of that sermon, wondering what kind of heart mine was.

Now back home, I am still challenged to assess who I am inside each time I scrub some dishes in the kitchen.

Do I exhibit a hardened heart, irritated by those around me?

Is my heart open to others, willing to accept them and introduce them to who I am?

When dry, the sponge beside our sink is rough and crusty. Hard to bend, it features an abrasive side that scratches your skin.

Once immersed in warm water, however, the sponge immediately becomes squishy, so flexible that you can squeeze it into different forms when scrubbing dishware of various shapes and sizes.

I can appreciate how a lot of our hearts can be like this today.

On the surface – and for whatever reason – many of us can at first be firm or cold to others, giving an impression that can rub people the wrong way.

And yet, once comfortable enough to let down our guard, we allow people to get to know our true self, welcoming them to discover our wonderful personality.

Clearly, our hearts, much like a sponge, are most effective when soft.

Sponge 5And just as a sponge absorbs and retains water, a warm heart invites others to enter into our lives, allowing us to begin and nurture positive, meaningful relationships.

But let’s not forget a sponge soaks up water only to wring out the excess.

Similarly, we are called by God to fill our hearts with His grace, learning and living out Jesus’ Gospel, and then pour out our hearts to the world, enabling everyone to encounter God’s unconditional and eternal love. (Matthew 28:19-20)

So the next time you’re scrubbing a pot or swiping some cutlery with a soapy sponge, try to pause if only for a moment, and recognize how soft your heart can be, filled with love waiting to be given to the world.