Jesus said to the apostles, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them” (Matt 19:14). This passage is revolutionary. Within different periods of history, as at the time of Jesus, children have been looked down upon in various ways. In various cultures throughout history they are treated without rights, they cannot look an adult in the eye, or they cannot approach an adult unless addressed.
At the time when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me” children were not to approach an adult, especially a Rabbi. Yet Jesus was approached by children so the apostles did what was customary: they tried to shew them away. Jesus, however, would have none of that. He in fact rebuked the Apostles, asked for the children to come to him, and thereby corrected a cultural flaw: children are to be received with dignity.
We too must be inheritors of this lesson of Jesus. It sometimes happens in Church that older adults get frustrated with children in Church. In some instances older adults have shown their annoyance by scowling at the children, looking angrily at parents, are even saying something rude to the caretakers. This cannot be the case at St. Francis of Assisi parish. We cannot be a pro-life Church and then get frustrated at the whinings, wiggles, and whispers of young children at Mass. Just as Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them,” so too, as fellow parishioners at St. Francis we are called to let the children come to Mass and do not get annoyed at them. We are no longer in a culture where children are without rights, are to be looked down upon, or cannot be free to be youthful in public. Children, and parents of children, have the right and privilege to remain in Mass wiggles and all.
At the same time, we do not ascribe to a “Disney” culture where children rule the day and parents are seen as incapable or unfair. In Christian culture parents have definite authority over their children. Parents do have the right to teach a child proper discipline in a Church, even if that means having to correct them several times throughout Mass. Furthermore, parents know the difference between an infant and toddler who is acting out as children sometimes do and an infant or a toddler who is calling attention to him or herself by over-exaggerating their noise or movement. Parents are asked to be prudent about the whinings, wiggles, and whispers of their infants and toddlers and response accordingly.
As a pastor, I am not concerned with the normal noises and movements children make at Mass. But I also know that there are times when children need to get taken to the foyer or the back of Church. A parent should feel free to make this choice on their own without the glares, stares, or “ga-fahs” of people who may be annoyed. Mass is a family affair – the entire family should feel welcome.