Sunday, March 11, 2007

All are Welcome Here

A few weeks ago at the grocery store, my husband and I ran into an acquaintance from church. She mentioned that she and her son were no longer attending mass, although her husband was continuing to go. Her son is twelve and autistic. They had been allowing him to bring a hand-held video game to church to help him be quiet, but they had been getting evil glares from some of the members of the congregation who sat near them. She didn't want to have to enter into discussions with these people to explain her son's mental challenges so she simply stopped going.

We encouraged her and her son to come back. We invited her to change her seat and come sit near us in a section that seemed to be somewhat more tolerant of disruption. I asked her to please not stop coming to church on the account of a couple inconsiderate people. She and her son were both welcome. To date, we haven't seen her return.

We attend the children's mass at our parish, a service that could never be described as quiet. With two active young boys, I am so thankful for the opportunity to worship with other families who are also trying to teach their children how to behave in church. The church is crowded, which at a time of declining church attendance, is wonderful to see. The children look forward to getting the children's bulletins and to going up around the altar to listen to our pastor give the homily. They enjoy the lively music. Teenagers do the readings. The service has meaning for our children and us as well.

At times, through necessity, we have ventured to attend other masses and have also experienced the evil glares when our children have acted up. While I understand my fellow parishioners' desire for a prayerful mass experience, I wish they would understand that I really am doing my best to have my children sit still and be quiet. My children will not learn how to behave in church if they don't go. Leaving mass feeling like you have been condemned for your mothering ability is never a pleasant experience. While it would never make me stop going to mass, it has certainly tempered my enthusiasm.

When I was a child, a priest at my parish would begin the mass by welcoming us to a "family meal of celebration and faith." We all are members of God's family, from the tiniest baby to the oldest senior citizen. God's family includes those who are mentally and physically challenged. It includes those who suffer from addictions and mental illnesses. It includes the homeless person and the multi-millionaire. It includes those of every color. We all are family, brothers and sisters in the Lord. We should all be welcomed at the Eucharistic table. No one has the right to make someone feel unwelcome. In fact, the opposite is true. We should greet our fellow worshippers with kindness and understanding. None of us is perfect, but all are welcome here.

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