A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that we have the best Mass stories. I'm glad they bring joy and entertainment value to others, because every one of them was, for me, absolutely mortifying. I am a good Catholic. Really I try. I really really try. But, for some reason my children because possessed by demons the moment we enter a church. I don't understand why others don't have the pleasure of experiencing this level of embarrassment whenever they attempt to worship Our Lord in His house. But, here is but a sampling of my worst ever moments in church.
I am a convert, so my Confirmation was as an adult. Because my formation had been outside of the church's CCD program, I knew nobody else that was being confirmed. I was not included in the rehearsal or any other preparation for the actual day. The morning I arrived I discovered perhaps two dozen other candidates were teenagers, but there was one other adult. I found comfort in that for some reason. As usual, I was the tallest, so it was decided that I would enter at the end of the line. After we proceeded in, I found myself at the end of a wide semi-circle in front of the Bishop. I didn't realize that I was supposed to go first, and the girl next to me sprang ahead to approach the Bishop and be confirmed. In retrospect, perhaps she could have tapped me on the shoulder and given me some signal to go, but in rehearsal I suppose she was first. Anyway, they continued down the line of faithful teenagers, eager and hopeful to become Soldiers of Christ. I began to panic as they reached the end of the line. What if they forgot me? What if I don't get confirmed today?? I decided I simply could not let that happen. So as the last candidate left the presence of the Bishop, I took off at a sprint, which was not easy to do considering the height of my heels. I also did not realize just how slippery the slate tiles could be on a cool day in the Helsinki spring. Nor did I fully appreciate the smoothness of the soles of my new sandals. As I attempted to stop in front of the Bishop, I slipped. I did not go down completely, it was merely a stumble. However, the words my body decided to expell from my mouth were inappropriate in ANY setting, let alone in front of the BISHOP OF FINLAND. That's right. I said, “Oh shit!” In front of the row of candidates. In front of all the priests. In front of the entire Catholic congregation of Helsinki. And did I mention the Bishop was there?
After that humiliating episode, I managed to find a husband and start a family. For a few years, Calum decided to provide me with some more opportunities to humble myself, and I must say he did a bang-up job. When he was still only crawling and pulling himself up, he managed to get away from Adam and I in the front row on the north side of the church. He tried to pull himself up by grabbing hold of the massive iron votive candle display to the left of the altar. The priest was right in the middle of his homily when there was a deafening almighty crash only 10 feet to his right. I can't remember what he said, but it was what you would expect from someone who just had the life frightened out of them.
A couple of years later, we were living in the U.S. and I was attempting to attend regular daily Mass with a 3 year old and a toddler. Once again, Calum made history, this time at the teeny tiny St. John's Church in Leesburg. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. You can stand at the back and practically reach out and touch the priest. I don't recommend that by the way. Calum was losing his patience as 3 year olds tend to do. As the priest was getting closer to the moment of Transubstantiation, I decided that it was probably time for me to get him and us out of there. I stood at the back, with my back against the door as Calum repeated, “Mummy... Mummy... Mummy... Mummy...” I just wanted to wait until the priest was finished. I thought to myself, “Just hang on kid, just one more minute...” And just as the priest lifted the Host up to Heaven, Calum shouted out, “F*cking Hell, Mummy!” I calmly grabbed the doorknob with my hand, pushed the door open behind me, and shuffled my Spawn of Satan out there as quickly as I could.
I have only one episode concerning Ali that comes to mind. I used to lector at a nearby parish on Saturday mornings. Again, this is during the daily Mass phase, so Ali was probably not yet two. My husband decided that he would like to start attending Mass on Saturdays as well, so why didn't we all go! It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, when it was time for me to approach the lectern and deliver the readings, Ali decided he was having none of it. I tried to ignore him, but as I was reading his screams got louder and louder and louder. He was still non-verbal, so his primary mode of communication was an ear-piercing shriek that could crack stained glass windows. Adam was suffering with some sort of injury to his arm, so he had his arm in a sling and was struggling to figure out how to handle the situation. It took him several minutes to drag Ali out of the church with his one good arm. I received a call a couple of days later that the church had received so many complaints after that Mass that I was asked to no longer bring my children with me when I lectored.
Once Finlay was born and we were juggling three young boys at Sunday Mass, every week was a challenge. We would tag team, taking turns pulling this or that boy outside for a break. Or once I even dragged Finlay out, threw him into the car (quite literally... threw), locked the door, found a bench and cried. One Christmas Eve Mass, I was outside trying to calm down a shrieking Ali, while Adam had a squirming unhappy Finlay in his arms. He went to sit down on the seat that he SWORE was RIGHT THERE, and misjudged. He ended up sprawled on the floor with a screaming baby. But, one of the best Christmas Eve Mass experiences was last year. We had decided to attend Mass at the new humungous St. John's in Leesburg. I know. I should have known better. Me and St. John don't get along apparently. I had torn a tendon in my left big toe and was confined to a horribly massive clunky black orthopedic boot for three weeks. My toe was extremely sensitive, but thanks to the boot I was able to get around and do things. So we found ourselves at the back of the church, as always. The kids were miserable and complaining and Calum was being especially sassy. Tension was building and Adam and I were both growing more and more frustrated. I was sitting in a chair when Finlay decided to take a flying leap and land on my toe. The injured one. The one that hurt just by looking at it. I screamed, and for reasons I can't explain, the phrase “Oh my f*cking God!” escaped my lips. Much too loudly. Adam looked at me somberly, picked up the coats, grabbed Calum's and Ali's hands and quietly walked out of the church. I followed, my head hanging in shame.
We have reached a new place now. Finlay goes to my mom's on a Sunday morning, so I can go to church with only Calum and Ali. They are 9 and 7 now, so Mass is actually quite enjoyable. We sit INSIDE, which is a luxury, I tell you. I am able to listen to the readings, sing along to the hymns, and actually hear the Homily. It's wonderful. Last week, however, Calum decided to spice things up a bit. The choir at our Church likes to sing an extra song after Communion. They seem to really get excited about it, and it's usually very enjoyable to listen to. Well, to us adults. My boys are counting the minutes at this point, and have usually lost their composure. Calum might decide to start poking Ali or Ali might decide to lay down on the floor and stretch out in exhaustion. Last week Calum and Ali were just about managing to control themselves when the two women who were sharing a duet hit an impressively high note. They really nailed it. I was impressed, anyway. Calum, on the other hand, decided to shout out, “What the CRAP was THAT?!” I gave him a look that assured him of a slow-and-painful-death as soon as we got home. The boy simply does NOT know how to whisper. Or keep his thoughts to himself.
So that just about sums up the highlights of our church-going experiences. I so envy families with well-behaved children who manage to control themselves during the entirety of Mass. Now that we sit inside I get to watch them, and I continue to be amazed. I don't know what they do differently, I honestly don't. I have been asked to leave so many churches. I have been banned from daily Mass. I have been called by a priest to talk about one child's behavior at church. I have had to stop lectoring as a result of another child's behavior. Maybe this does happen to everyone, and I'm just paranoid. Or maybe Satan has a thing for red-heads. Whatever it is, I shall keep on attending Mass and suffering embarassment. They seem to go hand in hand for me, actually. And please accept my sincere apology in advance for our behavior. This is just how we roll.