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Monsignor Zimmer recently mentioned genuflecting toward the Tabernacle, “the dwelling place of Jesus in our midst,” in one of the recent bulletins. He explains, “This simple gesture of putting the right knee to the floor is a sign of faith and respect for Christ present in the mystery of the Eucharist.”

1. Teach by example.
Our one-(almost-two)-year old, who we haven’t “taught” yet, who I supposed has just seen us all doing it, randomly drops to his knees with great vigour as soon as we enter the church doors. He does it without notice and I will suddenly feel a violent yank downward. I usually react by trying to yank him back up. He usually reacts by jumping downward again, this time with more feeling. Rinse, lather, repeat. One day, after watching our little dance, a kind gentleman pointed out, “He’s genuflecting!” Oh!

Some of the older kids will need reminding. Sometimes, just seeing you genuflecting is reminder enough, but other times…

2. Give a heads up.
In the car ride over? Maybe as you’re walking up the walkway before opening the doors? Or right when you enter? Again right before you leave? “Don’t forget to genuflect toward the Tabernacle!”

3. Talk about it.
Jesus, really present in the Eucharist, is the King of kings. These days, kings and queens find themselves in our lives through the fairy tales that we read. They come alive in the stories and I find that this is a good time to talk about the signs of respect that we pay to our Lord.

As far as I can tell, the habit of genuflecting, like any other habit we are trying to help our children form, may take years. Or rather, it seems to be taking years. I pray for the grace to be patient and hopeful.

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baby
Ya think you’re loud? I’ll show you loud…

After the Palm Sunday Mass, a lovely lady in front of us turned around and proclaimed our son A Very Well Behaved Boy. I was unable to respond graciously right away since I was busy picking up my jaw from the kneeler. Was she serious? He must have poked the back of her head with his seventeen palm leaves hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. And that was in the three seconds before I had to confiscate them. This boy? The one who treated his allotted four square foot of pew real estate as a jungle gym? Unless of course I was firmly holding him on my lap, in my role as the Most Grumpy Child Restraint Ever In the Whole World? Whose goal in life is to balance the Gather book on the pew in front of us (like the big people do), only to have it invariably slam down to the floor? We quickly exchanged stories about our challenges with squirmy kids, exchanged encouraging smiles and parted ways. I looked at my son’s toothy grin and sighed.

Today as I joined the usual suspects who hang with me in the foyer at the back of the church, each parent-kid pair engaged in their own shushing strategies, I didn’t feel as stressed as I usually do. When it was time to exchange peace, I gathered up the courage to give the others an encouraging smile and nod – a bit tense, a bit stressed, but encouraging – as if to say, hang in there. I know what you’re going through. No worries. Everyone smiled and nodded back.

I tend to be so preoccupied with my kids and their invariable antics that I forget that many, many other parents are going through the same thing. It’s SUCH a relief when someone says something encouraging and I’m trying to share the love and give my own little smiles of encouragement.

Having an eight-year old that I haven’t had to take to the foyer in years also gives me some hope that things will turn out ok. Maybe one day I won’t be intimately familiar with the selection of flyers at the back and those lovely deep turquoise radiators. And who can forget St. Clement and St. Joseph?

See you in the foyer!

In between refereeing whispered arguments about who gets to sit beside me, or arranging coats that invariably slip from the pew to the floor, I try my very best to catch as much of what is said during the Mass. Sometimes we’re lucky and I get entire sentences — paragraphs even. Today was particularly tricky. But in a rare moment of peace, the phrase all the angels and saints laser-beamed into my mind and stuck there.

… all the angels and saints…

Hello, all the angels and saints, I’ll be needing your help in the next twenty minutes or so… actually, forget minutes. Let’s say years.

… that You should enter under my roof…

Under my roof… Literally and spiritually, Lord, it’s a big mess in there. A big mess.

… my soul shall be healed.

Sigh.

In the silence(ish) after having received Jesus, the heads around us were bowed in prayer. I pointed this out to my wiggly three-year old and hoped, with another deep sigh, that my soul was indeed in the process of being healed.

Jesus, please be with my wiggly, loud and messy family. Please help me to know what you would like me to do today.

Father Zimmer lead a prayer for the souls of the faithful departed and I remembered my husband’s grandparents and a handful of friends who had died recently.

As we were bundling up, hunting for mitts and tuques under the kneeler, my eldest daughter smiled and whispered, “Thank you for letting me buy a Missal.” She had been collecting coins from her Daddy’s pockets (with his permission) for a while since she heard they were going on sale. Very generously, she let her sister look through it for most of the Mass.

Three out of five of us remembered to make the Sign of the Cross at the end of Mass. One out of five of us remembered to genuflect to the Tabernacle without being told. Two or three out of five of us remembered to return the kind greetings of our smiling fellow parishoners. All of us made it safely to the van without running into oncoming traffic. Are these good stats? Bad stats? I never know.

After we were all strapped in, I said, “Guardian angels?” and almost everyone enthusiastically responded, “Pray for us!”

… all the angels and saints… Please pray for my wiggly family.


“Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” -Mr. Han in Karate Kid

Do you find yourself with a wiggly toddler on your lap or beside you during Mass? Here are a few things to call their attention to:

1. Announce what the colour of the vestments will be. Ta-dah! I told you they would be purple!
2. Wonder out loud about whether it’s going to be Father Zimmer or Father Richard or a visitor.
3. Point out the readers about to read a story to all of us from the big red book. Let’s listen to their story.
4. Point out the cantor who will teach us a song. She’ll sing it first, then she’ll point to us when it’s our turn to sing.
5. This one’s tricky but super cool: Paraphrase the readings/Gospel on the fly. Jesus is saying that he’s the Good Shepherd. We are the sheep. He takes good care of us. Extra bonus points: Read the readings/Gospel beforehand and you won’t need to paraphrase on the fly.
6. When the bell rings, whisper that the Most Important Part is coming up.
7. Point out the rest of the congregation kneeling quietly for the Most Important Part. Maybe let’s put away all our stuff and pay attention to what Father is saying. Did I mention that this is the Most. Important. Part?
8. Call their attention to the miracle of the the bread and wine being changed to the Body and Blood of Jesus.
9. Point out the rest of the congregation kneeling quietly as they get ready to receive Jesus.
10. Call their attention to the tabernacle. It’s surrounded by many, many red candles to remind us that Jesus is really there.

Other things to point out
Depending on where you’re sitting, you’ll be able to point out: the crucifix, the tabernacle, statues of Our Lady, St. Michael, St. Clement and St. Joseph (if you’re hanging out in the foyer with a wiggly kid like we are), a station of the cross that’s near you (if you’re sitting near the sides), the stained-glass windows, the flowers, the candles, the organ, the piano…

Challenges will continue
Pointing out these things doesn’t guarantee that the kids will be quiet and still. Well, maybe for a little bit. But we really haven’t found the magic bullet for quiet and stillness at Mass for toddlers and pre-schoolers. What I am hoping is that the kids slowly grow in their understanding of the Mass: why they are there, who they are there for. I’m hoping that when they’re a bit older, they will be quiet and still at the right parts for the right reasons.

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'” -Catechism of the Catholic Church

On Monday mornings, our kids and I have been trying out something new: daily Mass. At 8 o’clock in the morning, instead of heading out the corner to wait for the school bus, we pile into the van and drive to St. Clement for the 8:15 Mass. By the time the Mass ends, we have just enough time to drive to school for 9am to drop-off the school-agers. Because it’s shorter, my kids call it a “little Mass.”

Super nice people
The regulars at daily Mass are very sweet. This is particularly good since I travel with a bunch of kids who may or may not be very quiet or behaved. We have our days. Everyone is very forgiving of our antics and help us herd in and out of the Communion line. Fellow parishoners have even helped me with wanderers, throwers of stuffed animals and droppers of hymnals.

A pew all to yourself
I love empty pews – more room for the diaper bag, the coats, the kids, me.

A good view
Because the sight lines are fantastic and the kids are more relaxed, I’m finding it’s a great time for them to see and experience and learn more about the Mass. It also provides extra practice time for things like sitting nicely and being quiet, genuflecting to Jesus the Tabernacle, bowing to the altar, and getting blessed during Communion.

Getting to go
When one of kids say “Mama, why do we have to something or another,” I automatically respond, “We don’t have to, we get to!” I know eh, what a mom thing to say. Well, this mom is getting to go to an extra little daily Mass once a week. It’s been surprisingly painless and possible. It’s been surprisingly pleasant. I think it might become a welcome part of starting the week.

From Father Zimmer in the bulletin:

March Break is upon us. School is out from Monday March 12th to Friday March 16th. Parents, we encourage you to bring the kids to Weekday Mass as a family Lenten observance. Early risers can try the 8:15 Mass on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Slug-a-beds can aim for the 7:00 p.m. Mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Try dropping in to the Adoration Chapel for a quick prayer with the family at any time of the day.

Usually one of the last Catholics to clue into things, I’m excited to announce that I know that there is a new translation of the Mass coming starting Advent 2011… and it’s not Advent 2011 yet!

Father Zimmer has been giving us resources through the bulletin and website. One resource is the Archdiocese of Toronto website, filled with links that might help one prepare for the implementation of the new translation. In particular, you’ll find the whole Order of the Mass, and a nifty chart with just the people’s parts, comparing the old translation with the new.

Of my four kids, I have one that is already reading. This means that, new Missal in hand, she can join us in the adventure of learning the new responses, maybe even some of the new music. I imagine that the change will be less dramatic for her (and subsequently, all her little siblings) than it will be for us old folks who have gotten used to the old translation. I think it will mean that I won’t take the words for granted as much as I help her navigate the Mass. They’ll be new to me, too. We’ll be learning them together.

New Greeting
The Priest greets the people, saying, The Lord be with you.
We reply, And with your spirit. (instead of And also with you.)


The Unforgiving Servant, by Domenico Fetti

Ever have the feeling that God means for us to hear something relevant and personal as we listen to the readings at Mass? Uncanny, I say. Today’s Gospel reading was about the unforgiving servant (from Matthew 18: 21-35) and it gave me unsettling flashbacks of my recent rampage around the house, yelling at everyone to quit their yelling.

In his homily, Father Zimmer asks us to read today’s gospel again sometime in the week and ask ourselves if there are people in our lives who we need to forgive. Seems like an important task for us to pencil into our to do lists (or type into the Blackberry), somewhere near the top.

Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

Great idea from Father Zimmer:

Did you ever think of bringing your kids to 8:15 morning Mass during the Summer months? It’s a good way to get them up, dressed and moving and develops good habits which will last them a lifetime. As an alternative, bring the whole family to the 7:00 p.m. Mass on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The family that prays together stays together.

If you have cable and little people, then you might have seen the show 4 Square. There’s a segment in the show where an acapella group sings a song along with a group of puppets (called the Do-Whahs). The children in the audience are told to Do what the Do-Whahs do, and sing along with the refrain of each song.

We’ve been asking our kids to try and follow along with what the big people are doing during Mass: stand when they’re standing, sit when they’re sitting, kneel when they’re kneeling. Our secret code (that is, what we whisper in their ear during Mass, along with a gentle nudge) is Do what the Do-Whahs do. It helps them be a bit more engaged and involved, and gets them to notice that there are indeed other people in the church with us. Look, look. Look at all these people praying. They still need quite a bit of reminding, but I’m sure we’ll get there someday.

Last Sunday, I spent a great deal of the Mass at the back with a noisy toddler. I was with the group of usual suspects in the foyer, trying to magic some reason into my almost-two-year-old. She looks at me with eyes that say, Mama, two year olds have no ability to reason. Ah, yes, there is that.

Once, a sweet lady once came up to us after Mass and enthusiastically told us that our children were so well behaved that day. My husband and I exchanged smiles. We didn’t tell her that we had basically spent almost the entire Mass in the foyer – which might be why she didn’t hear us that day.

I’m not exactly sure why the baby gets hungry at the same time that the toddler melts down, at the same time that the pre-schooler needs to go to the washroom. It’s uncanny. At the end of each humiliating episode, we just try to pack everyone up, genuflect and run to hide in the minivan.

Each time we have a particularly exhausting Sunday, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Yes, it’s good to help the children learn how to behave during Mass. But hopefully, the weekly family effort teaches a simpler and more important lesson: to be at Mass. It’s an exercise in faithfulness, a lesson in love.

We’re lucky that, at St. Clement’s, there are so many families each week who, not only help drown us out, but encourage us week after week. We’re also blessed with supportive parishoners who help us feel welcome, despite the din.

The struggle continues (for the sake of the sanity of those in the pews behind us). We dust ourselves off and try again next Sunday, armed with new hope, new strategies, and books from the foyer.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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