Little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way (Matthew 19:13-15).
The Bible passage above was read in a small Christian community in Johannesburg and each member reflected on the passage in the light of their faith. The sharing was done in the method of the Solentiname community in Nicaragua.
Penny: This passage raises for me as a mother of three young children of how child-friendly are our churches and parish communities? I battle to keep my children, especially the very small ones, interested in what is happening during Mass. They are full of life and vitality. They are noisy, free and find it incredibly difficult to sit still and keep quiet.
Brian: Penny and I find that we have to constantly to tell them to keep quiet, stop fidgetting. Often you are just fighting a losing battle. When it gets too much I have to take them outside. The cry rooms are not much better because while the children can be themselves, we are distracted that we cannot follow the Mass.
Elizabeth: My brother Gregory always falls asleep in the car on the way to church.
Gregory: I don’t do it on purpose.
Penny: I know some couples that stop coming to Mass when their children are little. They are aware that their children are noisy. They are tired of people turning around and telling them to keep their children quiet. In our parish church, the parents with young children have been encouraged to sit at the back of the church. There have been a number of complaints from older people that they can’t concentrate during Mass because of noisy children. We feel pushed aside.
Peter: I find this gospel passage very challenging. I am struggling more and more to motivate my teenagers to go to Mass. I am concerned that my children do not find the liturgy to be an experience that sustains their faith. The church is not their home. I suspect that at times I go to Mass for my children and they go to Mass for me. They go to satisfy me and not themselves.
Mark: Jesus says: ‘Let the children come to me’. He welcomes the children, he embraces them and blesses them. He wants them to know that they can encounter him too.
Peter: The liturgy is an opportunity to encounter Jesus. This encounter changes us and I believe that Jesus is good news for children. Unfortunately, my experience is that the Mass is often alien to my children. It doesn’t help them encounter Jesus in their lives.
Brian: I find the opportunity to be quiet (when I get the chance) and to receive communion during Mass very meaningful. For my children, I would like them to encounter Jesus too as I do. It would be easier if our churches were more welcoming of the specific needs of children and teenagers.
Peter: My children do find Jesus in liturgy at communion time. The symbols are powerful at that moment. Often it is the other 55 minutes to which they don’t easily relate.
Brian: Often people say we must get the youth or young people more actively involved in the Mass. I am not sure this makes much difference. They do all these activities but sometimes the sermons make them feel alien because they are told how they are to dress or not dress. They are not helped to experience the Word of God as speaking directly to their questions, their concerns, their fears and their interests.
Peter: In our parishes, we need to think more creatively of how to make the time in the liturgy more life-giving for children and the teenagers. In many Protestant churches, the children go to Sunday school, when the adults are in the service. I am not advocating this to be the answer to our problem, but more attention needs to be given to the little children and the teenagers. Perhaps then, Mass would not be so alien to them. Having the children’s liturgy is a wonderful idea, but I would also like to see teenagers breaking the Word together!
Penny: My children enjoy the house masses we have occasionally in different people’s homes. I asked Elizabeth, my eldest who is 9 years old, what Masses she prefers and she chose the house masses. She said it because she has friends there. Celebrating the Eucharist in the context of a vibrant and living community experience makes an enormous difference. A community that is welcoming and responsive to children helps us celebrate the Eucharist.
Brian: The Church goes nowhere if it loses its youth. We really need to make a special effort to grab their attention when they are young and make the liturgies meaningful for them. There is a greater chance that they will remain in the Church and become mature Catholics.
Mark James OP, Peter Sadie, Brian, Penny, Elizabeth and Gregory Leong.
16 October 2009