Friday, September 4, 2009

The Point


This week, some friends of mine invited me to join "First Fridays," a group of families from their church (mainly homeschooling moms and kids) who meet for a rosary, then daily Mass at noon, and then some fellowship afterwards. That invitation email I received was a direct answer to prayer! I am sorely in need of making some deep, lasting friendships with other Catholic women--particularly homeschoolers, as I plan to homeschool in the future. I talked it over with my husband that evening, and we decided that it would be a great idea for me to go. I arranged to carpool with a friend who could help me with directions, since the church is in a part of the city that is rather difficult to navigate.

Unfortunately, the Mass did take place at noon. In our household, this is usually lunch time, and the kids go down for naps directly afterward. Don't worry, I told myself, you can do this. You don't have to be a slave to naptime. Just be prepared. So the former Girl Scout in me went at it with all she had. I packed nutritious snacks that would work as a lunch for Sophia. I packed extra diapers so I could change the kids directly before and after Mass so we wouldn't have to be cranky on the long car ride there and back. I brought Sophia's crayons and some construction paper in case she got antsy during Mass. I had my sling for James in case he had trouble falling asleep or he needed to be held when I went up to receive Communion. I had my cell phone, directions, and rosary packed. I had water for Sophia and an extra Nalgene bottle in case I needed to fill her cup up again. I had everything. I'd done everything I could think of.

At 10:20, we headed out the door. As expected, it took us a full ten minutes for me to coax Sophia down the three flights of stairs from our condo, across the front yard, and into the van. Smiling the whole time and jabbering away to the teddy bear she'd requested to bring with her, she was not the least troubled by her slow-as-molasses descent. I smiled, too, since I'd had the foresight to shoot for leaving a little early, and we started off on a good foot. We arrived at my friend's house a few minutes ahead of schedule and headed into the city. Of course, we met with the usual lunchtime crunch, but we had fun chatting, and the kids were very happy in the back of the van, listening to our conversation. Things were going well. I even managed to get diapers changed before we went in for the rosary.

Sophia got settled into the pew with a bag of goldfish. James was smiling away in his carseat, next to me. I took him out and nursed him during the rosary so that he would be nice and full during Mass and wouldn't need to be fed again until it was over. I was rather patting myself on the back for how smoothly everything was panning out.

Then, the priest entered, and Mass began.

Not three seconds later, Sophia banged her head on the pew while attempting to retrieve a dropped goldfish. "Bonk head! Bonk head!" she shouted. "'Phia head! 'Phia bonk it head!" I comforted her and quieted her down. Then, I tried to find my place in the missal. (Did I mention this was my first time at a Latin Mass, and I was trying to navigate the foreign territory of a Latin-English Missal? Yeah.)

Sophia contented herself with her goldfish for a few more minutes, which was a good thing, because suddenly James' smiles had disappeared, and he was fussing and squirming in his carseat. I pulled the sling over my head, trying not to pull off my chapel veil in the process, and popped him in. No go. He wanted to be held upright. Out with James; off with the sling. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Where did I put that Missal? Ah, yes. Okay, where on earth are we?

No sooner did I find my place than Sophia finished her bag of goldfish and started clamoring for more. "Let's use whispers, Sophia," I reminded her. "We're out of goldfish. Would you like some cheese cubes?" Good thing you thought to bring cheese cubes, I congratulated myself. Sophia nodded an affirmative. Switching James to one arm, I reached down to pull the cheese cubes out of my diaper bag with the other. When I resurfaced, I found that James had one corner of my chapel veil in his little hand and was proceeding to gnaw on it with his slobbery little gums. I tugged it back out of his grip, trying not to pull the whole thing off my head and went back to bouncing my cranky boy.

Now, I was really and truly lost as far as the Missal was concerned. Finally, I saw the priest head over to the right side of the altar. Ah, time for the Epistle reading. Thank Heavens for all the choreography of Latin Masses. James in one arm, I fished around for my Missal on the pew with the other. I pulled out the insert for the propers and read the Epistle translation in English.

Next to me, Sophia had begun a rather noisy conversation with the teddy bear. "Sophia," I hissed at her, beginning to lose my patience, "you need to be quiet now. Let's whisper. Do you want to color with your crayons?" She nodded. I put down the Missal, pulled out the crayons and gave her some paper to color on. She happily engaged herself in this activity. Unfortunately, she also wanted to give me a blow-by-blow of each color choice and mark and scribble, and she wasn't keen on using that "whisper voice" I'd requested.

"Sophia, please be quiet," I begged, trying in vain to find my place in the Missal again. A crayon rolled under the pew in front of us. Sophia lunged for it, but I dragged her back, knowing that the second she had the crayon in her hand, she'd try to stand up and whack her head on the underside of the pew. I balanced James on one hip and bent forward to rescue the escaped crayon. By this time, I'd given up on the Missal altogether, and decided to stick it out until the sermon. Then, I could find my place again.

Sophia colored contentedly but noisily next to me while the priest read the Epistle and Gospel again in English and gave his sermon. I pleaded with her to be quiet. I threatened to take her outside. She'd quiet down for a moment, and then simply need to tell me that she was drawing a "ca'pillar--GREEN ca'pillar. Mama, GREEN ca'pillar."

"Yes, Sophia, a green caterpillar. It's a very nice caterpillar. Please, be quiet now." She responded to this by flashing me a delighted smile. She clearly had no idea how frustrated I was getting nor, apparently, any concept of the fact that I wanted her to be quiet. Meanwhile, James was continuing to fuss, and I was continuing to bounce, and my arms were getting tired.

The next thing I knew, the sermon was over. It had something to do with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and beyond that, I can't tell you much. I rescued my veil from another attempt by James to ingest it and tried to find my place in the Missal again. Need I say how that went? By the time I stood up to receive Holy Communion, I'd been informed loudly that the pink paper was the best for coloring on, tried to put James to sleep in the sling by letting him suck on my pinky finger (no go), lifted Sophia up onto the pew, down off of the pew, been shouted at to help the teddy bear sit on the kneeler, helped to buckle the teddy bear into James' empty carseat, refilled Sophia's water cup out of the Nalgene bottle supply one-handed (that was nearly a very wet disaster), and had an *almost* silent fight with Sophia to get her to put the crayons back in the box, as she had given up on coloring and was now dropping them all over the floor.

James finally fell asleep in the sling just as I was moving to the end of the pew, Sophia's little hand in mine, as she chattered, "Walking. Go walking. People walking. Mama walking. 'Phia walking." We made our way up the center aisle of the church to the communion rail with me shushing Sophia all the way, and I knelt down. Sophia tried to scramble under the rail to run up to the altar. I grabbed her arm, and she squealed. Gathering every atom of strength and patience I had left, I switched tactics and pulled her to me with both hands and gave her a hug. That worked. She stood beside me, little hands up on the rail, watching the priest move along the row of bowed heads toward us. I received my Lord in the Eucharist (thank you, Jesus)... and then had to convince Sophia that we should go back to our row and not marvel forever at the pretty green marble rail.

When we got back to our row, Sophia was amazingly still. She occupied herself with unbuckling and rebuckling the bear in the carseat. Relieved, I pulled the kneeler down and began to pray.

Lord, thank you for this gift of receiving you in Holy Communion. Thank you for the gift of my children. But, honestly, Lord, what is the point? What is the point of coming to Mass if I can't even tell what's going on because I can't follow the Missal because I'm wrestling two fussy children who should be napping right now while I get some peace and quiet? Jesus, give me strength.

Just then, I looked to the front of the Church, and I saw the priest carrying the hosts back up to the altar, and I saw the Tabernacle ahead of me with its golden cross. I sat there for a moment, a brief moment, basking in the Presence of Jesus. It was as though He was telling me, "I am. I am the point. You don't have to understand the prayers. You don't have to hear the sermon. It doesn't matter that your children are requiring more attention from you than you can give to Me right now. I am here. And, you came here to be with Me. And, that is the point."

Afterwards, of course, I forgot to change the kids' diapers, and was only reminded of this at the precise moment we pulled out of the parking lot onto the busy city streets and they both started to fuss. They were both cranky the entire ride home, which was an absolute bear during the middle of lunch rush hour traffic. James cried at the top of his lungs the whole way, poor thing. At first, I felt sick to my stomach with the stress of it all. I asked myself if I had been wrong to even try bringing the kids all the way into Seattle for this church service at what should have been naptime. Was I a bad mother? And, why hadn't I remembered to change their diapers and maybe feed James a second time before leaving the church? What sort of mother am I?

Blessedly, I remembered that moment after receiving the Eucharist. I wouldn't call it a moment of peace. I wasn't feeling very serene, let me tell you. I wasn't happy. I wasn't having a Jesus high. I felt worn out and frazzled and frustrated and completely unfit and unworthy to do much or to be much of anything. That is where Jesus met me. Right there, in all of that. And, He didn't take all the yuckiness away. He didn't make me "feel better." He was simply there. That is the point. That is enough.


  1. Okay. I have to say I laughed out loud (many times--I love you 'Phia) and cried at the end because I couldn't be there to help you. That the Lord is in you IS enough. That you made that effort as best you could IS enough. That you cared to try, knowing there may be problems, IS enough. May you have a peaceful weekend.

  2. (((hugs))) You will have great stories for those two when they get older. ;)

  3. A wonderful post, Bethany!
    Feeling close to God is a wonderful gift. Trusting he is honored by your worship, even when you are utterly human, is more so.

    Plus it made an awesome story :)
    I'm surprised there wasn't a wet potholder on somebody's head.

  4. Adri- Well, when we got home... It wasn't a WET potholder, but Sophia decided to "wash" her brother with a dry potholder. Unfortunately, he was napping at the time. But, not for long! :-D They really do crack me up.

  5. Typing w/ one hand while holding fussy/sleepy baby, but just wanted to tell you how much I loved this post. Your blog is truly a gift. I look forward to every post.

  6. Oh, the memories your post stirred up for me! I remember a certain Easter early morning mass when my 5 children were young. My husband sat on one of our daughter's Easter bonnet, and squashed it. She cried up a storm. One son was sucking on his tie, another son "watered" an elderly lady's flowered hat with his sippy cup. To my horror, I realized that one daughter had come to church sans panties in our rush to get to church on time! (Oh, PLEASE sit VERY still honey!) I felt that it had been a huge waste of time. After mass, I apologized to the elderly lady near us for making her Mass less than serene. She said she enjoyed sitting near our family because she never knew what would happen next!! She also sensed my frustration and added, "God only cares if you try, not if you succeed." What a kind lady!

  7. Oh boy - what an afternoon! Welcome to the real stuff that motherhood is made of.

  8. Bless you, Bethany, for attempting such a thing and handling it with such grace. You really did do that, you know, even if you feel like you didn't.

    I wear a round chapel cap now that I have a baby. The veil is just not worth it. It spends more time in Maria's mouth than it does on my head. And if it gets to the point that head coverings are not working, period, that's okay too.

    Following the Mass will be much, much easier after you've attended a lot of them. You will begin to memorise the prayers and learn to associate the priest's actions with what prayer he is saying.

  9. Bethany ~ what a wonderful post! I cannot tell you how many times I pulled my son out from under the pew in front. Oh the crayons and Cheerios tales I could tell. He is now in college and doesn't crawl under the pew any more!
    Thank you for the wonderful reminder of why we go to Mass. Because of Him and only Him. Well done my dear.
    I look forward to each of your posts. You inspire me to be a better woman and Catholic.
    Blessing and Grace to you and yours from another Phases blogger.

  10. I am so glad that I am not the only Mother that has experienced this! Sometimes it is easy to forget that what we go through as a mother of young children is not unique. When going through situations like this one I try to remember that "this too shall pass" and they will be grown before I know it. I have a 2 and 5 year old as well as a 13, 17, and 19 year old. I would like to tell you that as they get older it gets easier and in someways it does. But in many ways it does not. I can't distract my 5 year old anymore, she is too smart for that :) Keep smiling and remember it doesn't have to be "pretty." My aim for Mass is getting through it. Some days are easier than others, but God will bless your attempt sometimes more than your success.


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