I know that everyone always says to bring your kids to Mass.  Yes, even your loud, obnoxious, sometimes adorably irreverent toddlers and inconsolably screaming babies.  They are all welcome.

Putting that into practice is difficult and trying and sometimes can be overwhelming.  If you’re reading this article in your car crying outside the church where the rest of the family is calmly worshiping, you get it too. And I promise I’m praying for you.

Our experience has been unique with each of our sons, but while the older two get it, the youngest one is still figuring things out at 4 years old.  We felt like we tried everything to get him to be interested in Mass.  Praying at home, showing him the parts of the Mass in books, even bribing him with snacks, but nothing seemed to make him interested.  

One week, I was trying to just show him the beauty of the elevation, and I pointed and said “look, there is Jesus.”  He responded loudly “No, Jesus is dead!”  If that wasn’t embarrassing enough and seemingly an indictment of my ability to properly catechize my children, I have a very vivid memory of him repeating time and time again, “I don’t wanna pray, I don’t wanna pray!” All while we felt hordes of faithful and contemplative parishioners looked on in judgment.  Well, maybe many of them did.  Still some people would stop to say how great it was that we were trying and that he would get there.  But one particular person made a difference in our parish; to be blunt, she changed our lives.

An older woman who sits very close to where we typically sit every Sunday happened to be right behind us one day at Mass.  While our son was behaving in a less than saintly way, she just ever so slightly reached over and offered her hand to him.  He immediately was taken by her serene approach and saw a friendly face that he had seen countless times take a unique interest in him.  She went on to talk to us after Mass about her family, her grandchildren, and how she wished they lived closer.  Since he calmed down finally during the Eucharistic Prayer, for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, my wife and I got to earnestly pray at Mass, and we made a new friend.

The next week, we sat close to her again, and she expressed how happy she was to see our son again.  Once again, she offered her hand to him and they spent most of the Mass so calmly and peacefully praying.  After Mass, she told us all about how her husband had built a train room and she wanted to share that with our son so he could see it.  Our son was so thrilled at the prospect that he would see trains that he sat quietly all through the Mass.  Our trek to her house was short and her family was so welcoming to us.  Their hospitality was honestly some of the warmest we had ever experienced.

The next week she brought a stuffed toy for our son and treats for all of our boys to enjoy after Mass, never expecting anything in return.  She just wanted to share how much she cares for our children with us.  Every week since then, our son is so excited to go to Mass because he gets to see his friend who has trains in her house and who gave him treats.  He loves to sit next to her with us right next to him because she made him feel loved in a different way than a parent loves a child.  

Then finally, I understood what was happening.  This woman from our parish was being Jesus to our family, and most especially, to my youngest son.  I think that sometimes we may get so caught up in the hows and whys of Church teaching when we try to be witnesses of the Gospel to others, that we might forget some of the simplest ways to touch people’s hearts.  I cannot describe to you how joyful it makes my family to know that someone in our parish, without being asked or approached, saw people struggling and offered a hand to help.  She saw an opportunity to share love and she loved.  She sees beauty in people who are broken and wants to make them whole in a beautiful grandmotherly way.  And for now, she has become an integral part of our Church family, all because she took the time and effort to be like Jesus to us.

I share this story for two reasons.  If you’re still crying in your car, know that there are people in your church who want you and your crazy kids to be there, but especially, God loves that you are trying.  Secondly, if you’re the grandmother reading this story, please know that just a small act of kindness, service, and love can have such an incredible and lasting impact on a family.  In all of the stages of our lives, God calls us to play different roles in people’s lives.  It is through prayer and discernment that we hear His call, but don’t dismiss the promptings of your heart to fulfill one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy, or even just offer to help a juggling mother or a struggling father with their kids.  Sometimes the smallest works of charity cost nothing but mean everything.  I am so grateful for the parish community that we have been blessed to be a part of, and today, I am especially grateful for our kind and loving pew partner.  When you are given the chance today, be Jesus for someone else.