September 20th, 2022
As usual, Karin and I took our little grandson, Asher, to Mass with us on Sunday morning. Asher is not quite two-years-old, and he is generally a happy boy (note: his name means “happy” in Hebrew, so it fits him well). He was frisky on Sunday, and he wanted to go places. He was in no mood to sit quietly in the pew. We used various means of gentle persuasion to get Asher to settle down, but he was having none of it. Eventually, we grew weary of the battle.
We let Asher run amok. He dashed from the platform where the altar stands down the aisle to the wall with the stain glass windows. Then he ran full bore back up the aisle to the steps leading to the altar. He grinned, turned on his heels, and roared down the aisle again between the pews. He did this over and over and over again. At first, Karin and I tried to follow him. However, Asher has unlimited energy, and we don’t. We both sat back into the pew and watched our little guy careen through the church. No one seemed to mind. In fact, most people smiled at Asher as he raced past them.
It made me think of what it was like for me in church decades ago. Those were different days. As my father often said, “Children are meant to be seen and not heard!” That was the prevailing attitude back then. Kids were supposed to shut up and sit still. The apparent reverence of the children during the liturgy was considered to be a direct reflection of adult parenting skills. Woe to child whose parents got a dirty look from some old woman trying to pray her rosary without distraction! Hell had no fury like my dad if he thought I had embarrassed him at church. I am surprised that I am still a Catholic.
I wasn’t much better with our kids in church. The fact is that, for many years in many congregations, children have not been welcome. I don’t think it’s always been a religious thing. I think that it’s mostly cultural. Karin and I have often been to Catholic liturgies in Latino churches. During those services, people are relaxed, and the kids wander free. It is the same at The Congregation of the Great Spirit, a Native American Catholic parish in Milwaukee. The indigenous children there are active and often participating. I had the impression that the kids wanted to be there. Our kids really didn’t want to be at Mass, and none of them attend church as adults.
I think that, back in the day, when there were large Catholic families (I had six younger brothers), kids were considered to be a nuisance by their many of elders. The old folks never considered that fifty years later there might not be any children at Mass. Our parish took a survey of the congregation and determined (surprise!) that most people at the church are over sixty. Now the kids are sorely missed, and it might be too late.
Our parish is planning to evangelize young families with children to get them back into the Church. I am tempted to say, “Good luck with that.”
Where will the parish find these young families? How will the parents be convinced to participate in a church that told them that they were superfluous when they were little? Our children’s generation is lost to the Catholic Church, or to any other church for that matter. They are the “nones”, and it will be hard to get them to return.
At the end of Mass on Sunday, when Asher was finally running out of steam, Father Michael came to our pew and sat down next to where Asher was standing. Father Michael looked intently at Asher and Asher looked back at him.
Father Michael smiled and said, “Asher, I like you. You know why? You make me laugh.”
Asher grinned at the priest.
Father Michael asked Asher, “Do you want to come up to the altar with me and help dismiss everybody?”
Asher took Father’s hand and walked with him up to the altar.
Father Michael held Asher in his arms and together they gave the final blessing.
I think Asher might come to Mass again.