Last Sunday at Mass I sat behind a mother holding a sweet little baby boy. He was probably about three months old, still young enough to rest easy in his mother’s arms but old enough to take in his surroundings with wide eyes full of wonder.
He fell asleep a few times during the service, then after Communion, toward the end of the Mass when most of the congregation was kneeling quietly in prayer and waiting for the priest to finish preparing the altar, he woke up. His father started to make faces at him to get him to smile. His mother shushed his father and whispered, “Don’t make him laugh right now!”
But the father couldn’t help himself and the baby giggled loudly. Everyone around them turned to look at them, not in a judgmental way, but rather giggling themselves, recognizing the pure joy of a baby.
I remember when I was that mother, worried about my boys making too much noise and laughing too loudly. (Maybe I am still that mother.) But usually, something or someone reminds me not to take things too seriously because I will miss the opportunity that joy brings.
When we moved back home to Indiana, we visited several churches of various denominations looking for a place to call home. We attended a couple where you took the babies to a nursery during the service. At first, it was nice to be able to sit and listen without “distractions” but after a while, it felt strange to me. I missed the chatter of little children and the occasional crying baby. I missed my own children. I knew that they probably wouldn’t understand what the Pastor was talking about, but they were missing being with me in a sacred place.
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 18: 2-3
That’s actually part of why I returned to the Catholic Church. Growing up I remember families with loads of children taking up whole pews. While we definitely learned reverence (eventually) and when to sit and stand and kneel, we could also just be children. Once when I was about ten, and we were sitting in the front row (because my mom always insisted on that), my three-year-old niece was laughing so hard during the homily that the priest actually stopped his remarks and asked her what was so funny. He didn’t say it in a scolding manner either, it was with genuine curiosity.
So in the spirit of honoring childlike joy this Advent season (and always), I leave you with one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems.
Don't Hesitate If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that's often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 61)