Mass is always a struggle for us. It’s just the phase of life we are in right now. With four little ones ages 6 and under who have been over-exposed to screens and live in an instant gratification world, asking them to participate in Mass for one hour each week seems an insurmountable task. We have tried everything – something to draw on, quiet toys to play with, Mass books to follow along – but to no avail. Nonetheless, we dress our four wriggling, squirming little persons in their Sunday best (usually a colored shirt and their least hole-y tennis shoes) and attempt to share our love of the Eucharist with them.
Because we belong to a parish where there are strong opposing opinions about noisy children in Mass we have started sitting in the former choir loft which has a fantastic view of the altar and is next to the organ which helps blend our vocals at least during songs. Today (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time) we marched up to our new “regular” spot in the front row of the loft. There was a family in the second row which had two adults with special needs, both exhibited traits of being on the spectrum. One, a young woman, was muttering excitedly and was frequently encouraged by her father to be quiet. I will get to the young man shortly. The other, a young man, was gently and quietly rocking back and forth.
I could almost sense the family’s relief (or perhaps I imagined it) when we sat in front of them. Perhaps for a change, someone else’s children would draw more attention than their own. Four noisy boys would at the very least cover up the mutterings and random exclamations.
Fast forward to the reading, the familiar story of Mary and Martha. We are all familiar with Mary sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus soaking up His Gospel while Martha works frantically in the kitchen. During the Homily, we hear our priest encourage us to put time with God first and all the help will fall into place. We will desire to help one another. We WILL help the poor. We WILL help the immigrants. We WILL help our neighbor. From behind us, we hear the voice of the young man repeating over and over, “I’m no help to anyone. I’m no help to anyone.”
My heart just about broke. This young man has been raised in a world that measures dignity by what you can do, what you can accomplish. Someone has told him that he is helpless, perhaps worthless because he is different. He cannot do what you or I can. He may never support himself. He may not be able to cook for himself or do his own laundry or work for a paycheck of any kind. I don’t really know his story.
What I do know is that our world is wrong. That young man has inherent dignity and value because he is a precious son of God. The Father sees him and loves him completely. He doesn’t have to do anything for the Father’s love and he shouldn’t have to do anything for ours. That’s our brother in Christ.
After Mass, my husband wanted to tell that young man that he DID help someone today. He helped bring us out of our self-absorption with our own noisy children and put us in the moment of the Mass. We wanted him to know that our Church is a community and that all of us are a part of the Body of Christ. The family took off pretty fast at the end of Mass so we didn’t have a chance to tell them anything. Perhaps they wanted to book it before someone could comment on their noise. Perhaps they just didn’t want to try sitting still and quiet for one more minute (Same!)
Whatever their reason for rapid departure, a part of me is glad we didn’t get to share our thoughts with him because we would be contributing to the lie that he NEEDED to help us in order to be appreciated by us. If I see him again, I just want to say, “Hi! I’m Carol. It was nice to celebrate Mass with you and I hope to see you next Sunday!” When one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body suffers. The young man is hurting because someone has confused his worth with his inability to serve. My heart aches for him to know how much his Father in Heaven adores him. My heart aches for him to hear that he is valued, loved, appreciated. If he cannot hear the Father over the clanging gong of this busy and misinformed world, it is up to us to alter the message.
Lord, help me to do my part to love all of your children well! Amen.