Sunday preparations start about two hours before mass begins. Making sure the kids are well-fed so they won’t be cranky. Arguing over outfits. Trying to take a shower while they scream at the door (you’d think the faucet spews acid that will dissolve their mother evermore). Debating whether putting the baby down for a morning nap will cure the grouchiness or give him an extra surge of squealing, face-grabbing energy. Bargaining over whether they can bring toys to mass (the answer is always “no,” I assure them. Toys cause more problems than they’re worth).
As we rush out the door, I remind them of our deal: “If you’re good you get a treat, if you’re naughty you get a __________” (They fill-in-the-blank for their dreaded punishment.)
As we walk in (usually among the last arrivals), the kids grab as many hymnals as they can carry and we hastily make way to a pew, bracing ourselves for the 45-minute battle to come.
Years ago we decided not to get stuck in the rut of a “family pew,” but rather to switch it up each week. Better that all parishioners get their turn amongst our pint-sized distractions, we reasoned. If it’s Lou’s choice, we’re right up front where she can see the action. Nate prefers the back, and I usually choose somewhere in the middle, although lately I’ve discovered that the choir loft is a lower-pressure alternative.
Rise to sing the first hymn. Baby Otto grabs for the hymnal, ripping the page in half. Good thing we have those backups.
Someone has to go potty already. Then of course they need drinks of water out of those awesome paper cups, but don’t you dare throw Victor’s in the garbage when he’s done. He’ll need it to stay by the sink in case he has to go potty again.
Make way back into church, but four-year-old Lou appears to be blazing her own trail down the middle of the aisle, forgetting where we’re seated this week (maybe the family pew isn’t such a bad idea…)
We’re onto the second reading, and Otto seems to have his own message to pronounce to the entire congregation. Speaking in tongues at such a young age, what a gift!
Victor has made himself a bed on the kneeler, but Louisa wants it up. A fight ensues. Remind them of the agreement.
Now we’re onto the homily, and I nervously glance at Nate, anticipating his complaints that he “didn’t get anything” out of today’s service. What a former-protestant thing to say! As if the sermon is why we’re here.
Lou and Vic are fighting again over one of the fifty books on the pew. Issue the second reminder of our agreement.
What’s that smell? It sure isn’t incense emanating from Otto’s diaper…
At some point a seed of doubt sprouts and I wonder why the hell we bother coming.
No time to water that seed, though, because now we’re rising for the Lord’s Prayer and I gently nudge Lou to join us. She proudly recites the prayer, and my heart swells when I realize that two-year-old Victor is stumbling along with us.
As we turn to give the sign of peace, a beaming parishioner clasps each of their little hands and whispers, “What a beautiful family. Thanks for coming.”
Kneeling for consecration I take a moment to slow my breathing, attempting to ignore the six hands grabbing at me and instead make myself present, not just here in church, but here at Calvary. At the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice.
I do my best to offer myself as a living sacrifice, discerning whether I’m in a state of grace to partake in the sacrificial meal. I’ll be damned if I’m going to take Eucharist outside a state of grace…well, maybe not damned but I would be taking judgement upon myself, and heaven knows I don’t need that.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Waiting in the communion line, the kids are more compliant than they’ve been all morning. Wide-eyed and eager, even they seem aware that we are approaching the true presence of Christ.
Finally, I receive Him, the physical embodiment of grace. Grace flows through every cell in my body, renewing my spirit. For a moment there are no distractions or demands. Just me and Jesus. When I open my eyes, grace continues flowing. I look at my children, once burdensome energy-suckers, and see their pure hearts. The meager choir sounds like heavenly bands of angels rejoicing. His head bowed in prayer, my husband no longer looks like a reluctant participant, but like the saint he’s called to be. And I myself, instead of feeling like an overwhelmed, harried woman who probably just should’ve stayed home, feel like a precious child of God.
This is why we come. Week after week, year after year. Through teething and tantrums, hangovers and hesitance. We may not always hear the sermons, but we come for more than sermons. It may not be the most rousing service, but we come for more than entertainment. The kids may not always practice reverence, but we come for more than obedience training.
We come for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the chance to participate in the eternal sacrifice, renew the covenant of salvation, and get grace-filled spiritual food for this crazy journey that we call life.
Lord knows, we need it.