Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Guest Writer

10-13-2013Fr. John LettersErma Bombeck

By Erma Bombeck, May 1973

There are many theories being circulated these days about taking your children to Mass. Some parents say if the Good Lord had meant for children to go to church, he would have put restrooms at the end of each pew. Others say, "What does it profit a mother to ask God's blessings when she doesn't have the strength to endure the ones He has already given her?"

I have always envied the mother who enters church with her brood and walks down the aisle like a tour guide at Lourdes. Her children are always immaculate and bob along with military precision, genuflecting as a group and filing in until the row has been filled.

The tone left by our family leaves something to be desired. I have been compared to a social director on the Titanic. One kid slinks down the aisle with a "Don't Eat Yellow Snow" patch on the rump of his jeans. (He gave up parents for Lent three years ago and never got back to us.) The other one skips down the aisle gathering prayerbooks and blowing out the candles. The third is shouting at me, "Leonard touched me in the car and I am going to break his face." As a woman who has endured this hour of prayer every Sunday and Holy Day for the last 20-some years, I fail to be impressed with monks who flog themselves to death with chains as an act of penance. I say to them, "Big deal"!

It is without any sense of pride whatsoever that I have occupied every nook and cranny of the church. Early in motherhood when I wanted to show off my child to the congregation (and display my fertility like a Rotary badge), I aimed for the first row where I would fancy a light danced around my shoulders and parishioners conceded, "Is she the shoo-in for Catholic mother of the year?" Then the baby developed lungs and a mouth and one Sunday as the Priest said, "I don't mind joyful noises to the Lord but this is ridiculous," I retreated to the "Crying Room."

The "Crying Room" I soon discovered didn't refer to the children at all, but the mothers. While the kids exchanged saliva bacteria, the mothers recoiled in a fetal position and reminisced about the good old days when they were stable.

The mortality rate among mothers was high. I alone caught roseola twice, three-day measles three times, diaper rash once, and was nearly knocked senseless when a small one pulled an electric fan over on my head. I moved to the church proper where I chose one of the side aisles to display my maternal wares…only to have my preschooler grab my rosary one day and start to swing it around his finger saying, "Hang on, Jesus, you're going for a ride."

The balcony of the church seemed to fit our needs for the next two years until we heard rumors of "spitting, punching, and changing the page numbers in the choir's hymnals." By this time we had a boy server, so we moved in the middle of the center aisle to get a better view. I wish we hadn't. I had always heard there was a burst of pride the first time your son assisted at Mass. Ours was a nightmare.

He rang the bell at the entrance. He rang it again when he tripped over it at the Gloria. He rang it again during the sermon. He rang it at the Creed. And just to make sure he didn't miss the moment, he laid on those bells until after the recessional. Afterwards the priest confided to us it was like serving Mass with the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He turned in his candlesnuffer and retired from the altar. (The boy, not the Priest.)

For the next few years we stood in the back of the church. At least until we were sure that people had forgotten us. It was during this period that the Mass began to take on new changes and meanings. I was especially heartened that my boys wanted to stand next to one another and were so enthusiastic during the part of the Mass where we turned to one another and said, "Peace be with you".

My husband and I were watching them with pride one Sunday as they clasped hands and smiled. Several seconds later I looked at them and their hands were still clasped, only one son's hand was turning blue and his knees were beginning to buckle. "Don't you think they're overdoing the sign of peace?" I whispered to my husband. "They aren't saying 'Peace'" he said, "They're trying to get one another to say Uncle before he gets his shoulders pinned against the confessional."

The other Sunday my husband leaned over and whispered again, "why do we do it? Isn't there an easier road to faith than getting kids out of bed Sunday morning, into clothes that didn't come out of the dirty clothes hamper, and to church on time? Why?"

I looked around the church slowly…the small child emptying his mother's purse…the other one peeking in the confessional observing, "That's a funny bathroom," and the baby sleeping peacefully in its mother's arms. "Because they're so fresh from God, it is a constant reminder that He was and His is. They are our promise of infinity. They belong here…in any state. At that moment, one of our boys turned around and said…"Will you hold it down Mom? You are in a church!"

I leaned tiredly against the door leading outside. This spot was my last stronghold.