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For Your Marriage

Alexa T. Dodd is a cradle Catholic learning to deepen her faith through her vocations as a wife, mother, and writer. She’s been married to her husband, Joseph, for six years and stays home with their two young sons while pursuing a career in writing.

Our Children are not Just the Future of the Church

The church was holding Mass in the community center, which meant there was only a crucifix and a tabernacle behind the altar. There was no religious art, and while the space was reverent, it was aesthetically sparse, which seemed to make it even harder to focus as my children wiggled in their seats. As we knelt for the consecration, I tried to close my eyes and block out the distractions. As he sometimes does, my husband, Joseph, whispered to our older son to encourage him to pay attention to the prayer. Ronan listened but continued to wiggle and ask questions and generally behave like most five-year-olds in church. At one point he asked, as he usually does, “How much longer?” When Mass ended, we trudged in the heat to our car, strapped our kids into their seats, and headed home, relieved to have survived another weekly Mass with small children.

“Oh, by the way,” Joseph said. “During consecration, Ronan said he saw angels.”

I looked over my shoulder at Ronan and he smiled. When I asked where he saw them he said, “All around. When the priest held up the bread and when he held up the cup.”

“What were they doing?” I asked.

“They were singing.”

“What were they singing?”

“‘Glory to God in the Highest.’”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s pretty special.”

Since that Mass, Ronan has claimed he sees angels during consecration every Sunday. He says it looks like faint white lines in the shapes of angels and that they are always singing very softly.

We’ve tried not to put too much pressure on him to describe it, as he’s a very imaginative child and we know small children will often say the things they think you want to hear. We’ve only told him it’s a wonderful gift to be able to see angels, and we’ve talked about the significance of them appearing as the priest raises the host and the chalice.

But I keep returning to the thought that God’s ways are both strange and wonderful. So often, Ronan whines that he doesn’t want to go to church. He fights us when we tell him he needs to stand or kneel or pay attention during Mass. At prayer time, he rushes through the Hail Mary so quickly the words run together. In other words, he’s a normal five-year-old. While he is loving and kind and full of deep questions, there is nothing about my son that would make me believe he is deeply holy already, a tiny St. Padre Pio. And yet, while I strained to keep my wandering mind focused on the most pivotal moment of Mass, my son saw angels and it was barely even a surprise for him.

As Catholics, I think we often believe that holiness must follow a specific script. We believe it looks like perfect stillness and constant reverence; it’s never complaining and total surrender. But I think God is challenging me to see it as something much more complex—every person, at every stage, might be called to holiness in a different way. My son, too young to understand most things about the faith, full of his little selfish and childish wants, unable to sit still, is holy. He is holy by his baptism, holy by the grace of God, by His unfathomable generosity to let him glimpse beyond the veil.

I know that at every Mass, there really are angels praising the glory of God. Though we cannot see them, we are gifted every opportunity for holiness in the Mass, in the Word and Bread of God. Furthermore, as a parent, I’m gifted the opportunity to find holiness even in the wiggles and tantrums of my children. So often, at Mass, I blame myself for my distractions, for my lack of feeling as I receive the Body of our Lord. But Ronan’s claim of seeing angels has been like a wakeup call, reminding me that my holiness is not based on how well I pray or even how well my children behave. Rather, holiness is a gift from God, granted by His love and His sacrifice.

We are told that children are the future of the Church, a wonderful reminder to parents of small children that, despite the struggles, it is worth it to bring our kids to Mass. But I believe we can take it one step further. Children, as baptized members of the Body of Christ, are the Church already. What if we began to see the sound of a baby’s cry, the strained whispers begging our toddler to sit down, the goldfish crumbs in the pews, the little limbs sprawled across a kneeler, the sibling squabbles over who gets to put the envelope in the offertory basket—all of it not as distractions but rather intrinsic parts of the Mass, like sacramentals aiding in our path to holiness. All of it bound up and made holy in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Even if I’m dragging my three-year-old to the bathroom or telling my five-year-old to stop chewing on his shirt sleeve, there are still angels singing around us. Every one of us—no matter how young, how old, how distracted, how hungry, sleepy, bored, whiny, or struggling—is called to holiness and meant to be at the Table.