Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lessons From My Five Year-Old

Lessons From My Five Year-Old

          Last weekend I attended a military funeral.  It was for a hero who was killed at the front of his men defending innocent people in Afghanistan, as well as the freedoms we enjoy here at home.  It was the first funeral I have attended for a soldier killed in battle.  And I was a little worried, because I had to take my five year old son.
          My wife’s great aunt died earlier last week so she also had a funeral to attend and would not be able to bring all three kids.  So, at the last minute, I gained a companion.  My concern was that this is a child who has not sat still and quiet through Mass since he was an infant, and I knew this service would be longer than a standard Mass.
          However, to my pleasant surprise, he did great.  It was outside, at the cemetery, on a hot, sunny day, and it was so well attended that we had to stand.  My son, after a little while, sat down on the grass in someone’s shadow for shade, and listened or played quietly with the dirt.  When the ceremony was over we walked calmly to the car (no one running off, refusing to hold my hand, or looking for things to jump in) and stopped to say a prayer on a hill overlooking the many other headstones in the cemetery.
          I was very impressed, and we celebrated by going to a movie that night.  But it made me wonder, why was he able to be so calm, quiet and respectful for over an hour under the hot sun, when at Mass he struggles so much to do so for barely an hour in an air conditioned church when he has a book and a sippy cup?
          Now, my son definitely struggles with attention issues, so sitting calmly can be difficult for him, but he had very little difficulty at the funeral.  I think the main reason was the atmosphere.  Everyone was respectful.  No one was talking, fooling around or reading the newspaper (or the bulletin).  People stood at attention for the flag, and walked with solemnity into and out of the ceremony.  No one showed up half an hour late, and no one snuck out early.  The music was beautiful, and played on a bugle or bagpipes.  There was no question what kind of event this was.  The atmosphere made it easy for my son to show calm respect.
          The purpose of these reflections is not to point the finger at anyone.  If I did, it would have to start with me.  More than once I have ushered one or more of my kids out of the church chastising myself for how I handled them, sure I had disrupted the Mass for at least some people.  But it is an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and how we support or undermine the proper atmosphere at Mass.
          The Mass is a memorial service.  More than that, it is a Sacrifice.  We attend a Crucifixion.  Calvary is made present to us, and then in the greatest of triumphs, the Sacrifice becomes a Feast, a wedding feast, at which we are one of the spouses, and we become one flesh with God in the Holy Eucharist.  Nothing is more sacred.  Joyful, to be sure, but also to be treated with the highest dignity and respect.
          Here are the questions I want to ask myself to be sure I am doing my part to ensure a dignified, respectful atmosphere at Mass.  Do I arrive on time, or perhaps even early, so I can spend some time in prayer before Mass, maybe even visit the tabernacle?  That would be a great sign to my kids that we are here for something and Someone special.  Do I stay until the end or am I sending the message that there are more important things to do and places to be?  How do I dress for Mass?  Do my clothes signify that this is like a picnic at the beach or do I dress as though I am approaching something special and sacred?
          Do I spend my time in the church talking to God or talking to fellow parishioners about trivial things?  Fellowship is important, but in the church I should be preparing myself.  No one at the funeral was talking about college football as it was getting ready to start.  How do I receive Holy Communion?  A friend of mine, who serves as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, related a time when someone approached her for Communion while on his cell phone.  That is an extreme case, but I should approach the Sacrament with the same honor that I gave my wedding vows.
          All of this sets a good example for my children, but doesn’t change the environment around them, so I have to make my expectations clear.  When they do well, like last weekend, we can celebrate.  When they don’t, I can’t ignore it.  One by one we can each set an example and bring the proper reverence back to our churches.
          May the soul of Army Ranger Tyler Holtz and all our fallen heroes, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace, and may we remember their families in our prayers.  Amen.