Sunday, July 13, 2014

Encouragement for Parents of Boys that Are A Handful at Mass

Does your child "hate" Mass? Do not despair.

Forge on. Pray. Keep going and growing in your own faith and encouraging your child to go and grow, too.

You may be surprised what happens.

I certainly was!

Yes, He Really Asked to Be An Altar Boy

It was with some trepidation that in early June I drove about an hour with my children to a Latin Mass in the Rite of Braga.

Experience has proven that Mass with my boy can be anything but a reverent experience at times.  Even a quick, local Mass in English can be challenging for Luke (and his two younger siblings, as well.)  So, although the friend who had invited us to the Latin Mass assured me that the priest offering the Mass was fabulous and "gets" kids, I was hesitant to pile into our minivan to go experience what I feared might become a Mass of mayhem.

The Spirit moved me to do so, though.  And - praise God! - in the end, someone else was moved, too.

As Luke experienced the Rite of Braga Mass, which acted as the closing Mass to our homeschool group's year of studying Medieval times, he looked up to me and said, "Mom, I want to be an Altar Sever."

I was shocked!

My camera was not working well the day of the Medieval Mass, but I want to share this photo as it is significant.  Before the Mass began, the priest offered a brief lesson on the Rite of Braga Mass and the architecture of the church we were in.  When he asked for a volunteer to help him explain the symbolism of the building, Luke raised his hand.  He was picked and, since Luke can be quite an erratic volunteer,  I thought, "Oh no!  Now what is going to happen?"   My concern was unnecessary.  Luke not only responded to the priest's requests well, but became more interested in the Mass, and, I would guess, open to the Spirit speaking to him during the Mass.  

Joyfully Surprised

"You want to be an altar boy?!" I responded in an excited, surprised whisper to Luke when he quietly announced his desire to me during the Braga Mass.  For, prior to that Mass, when I had casually asked Luke once if he ever wanted to serve as an altar boy, he had immediately and emphatically responded, "No!"  He doesn't like to participate in Mass.  It is "boring".  It is "long".  It is a struggle for him.

I understood.  

As a "sensory kid" with attention challenges who was once on the path to an Autism spectrum diagnosis, I am thrilled that Luke makes it to - and through - Mass at all some weeks.  Regulating himself in the pew is challenge enough for Luke.  If he did not want to serve on the altar, fine.

Thus, I had never asked Luke about being an altar server again.

Yet, there was my boy bringing the possibility up to me.  

As Luke experienced Latin Mass and witnessed some of his homeschool peers serving on the altar during it, a desire kindled within him.  He voiced it, "Mom, I want to be an altar boy."

Who was I not to support him and the way the Spirit was calling him?

In the days that followed, I asked Luke several times if he had been serious about wanting to serve as an altar boy.  

Not only did Luke affirm his desire to me, but one day at Mass when our church distributed questionnaires asking what parishioners wants, needs and abilities might be, Luke took it upon himself to fill out his own form, writing on it that he wanted to serve as an altar boy.  In doing so, he shared his heart's desire publicly.


As Luke' s desire persisted, my joy and gratitude grew. 

Several times, I chatted with Luke about his choice to become an altar boy.  I hugged him, prayed with him, told him how delighted I was that he felt called to help our church in such a way and let him know that I would call the rectory to find out more about Altar Server training.  

And A Tad Concerned

Yet, while I was true to my words of support, excitement and gratitude, I admit, I also harbored concern.

Desire and ability are two different things.  Luke wanted to be an altar boy, but could he be?  

My question was not whether Luke be allowed to be an altar server. (I knew our parish would welcome him to try it out.)  Rather, it was whether Luke would be able to participate in Mass on the altar without causing distraction... or even disaster.

So it was that I spent time chatting with Luke about what an privilege it is to serve on the altar and how he would need to be extraordinarily respectful.  Focus on the Mass.  Sit, stand and kneel when he was supposed to.  Not complain.  Not escape to the bathroom.  Regulate himself and pray for help if he felt challenged...  Basically, in not so many words, reform his years of challenging Mass behavior.

Luke committed to doing so.

Bumps Before Becoming an Altar Boy

Commitment, though, does not always mean success.  

In the weeks between when Luke was called to be an altar server and when he actually becoming one, he made a concerted effort to "be good" at Mass.  Yet, he still struggled.  

His attention waned.  His senses processed in their own way.  His core strength flagged.  He sprawled prone on the pew.  He made bathroom trips.  He fooled around with his bother and sister.  He needed me to hold him.  He struggled to regulate himself and to participate with reverence.... and, yet, he continued to speak of his desire to serve.

So it was that I brought Luke to Altar Server training and, a week later, woke him for "the big day".

Unfortunately, the big day unfolded with a big meltdown at its start.

Although it was only a couple of weeks ago, I cannot remember what it was at breakfast that began to set Luke off.  I do recall, though, that his actions and reactions in a squabble with his siblings were not acceptable.

Then, having reset (I thought) from the small breakfast outburst, when it was time to get dressed for Mass, a full-on meltdown, reminiscent of the ones Luke used to have daily in years gone by, began.

Luke did not want to wear his button down shirt "because it itches" and his dress pants "hurt" and...  I asked Daddy to finish getting Jack and Nina ready and to get them in the car while I dealt with a 15-20 minute full-blown meltdown that I wasn't sure Luke would recover from in time to serve at Mass.

Praise God, though, somehow we did it.  Luke got dressed.  He reset.  And, we all got to Mass 10-15 minutes early so he could go to the sacristy to prepare.


Luke responded wonderfully to the altar server assigned to mentor him on his first day on the altar.  There were no more tears nor protests as she helped him pick out a robe, find a red cincture and put on a cross to wear.

Smiles and Tears

I cannot express the joy, gratitude and allayed apprehension I experienced as Luke served for the first time as an altar boy.

Our pastor Father John is awesome, as were the veteran altar servers that mentored Luke that day.  With their guidance, Luke's own desire and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit, Luke not only made it all the way through Mass as an altar server, but he did so with a spirit of enthusiasm and focus that amazed me.  

To be honest, particularly after Luke's pre-Mass meltdown, I was not confident that he would succeed at staying on the altar for an entire Mass, much less honoring our Lord and the responsibilities of being an altar server.  Yet, Luke did.

It was a beautiful, incredible, affirming thing to witness.

Miracles Do Happen

So many times throughout the years, I have wondered whether taking Luke to Mass was even "worth it".  Of course, I always knew it was, but sometimes the challenge and frustrations of doing so were so great that doubt crept in.  

Frustration, anger, despair...  They all reared their ugly heads.

Then, that Sunday, all that negativity was extinguished.  During Mass, a tear or two of relief, release, affirmation and joy rolled down to the corners of my smile.  My son's eye caught mine.  Then, I looked up to the stain-glass window that depicted Jesus on the cross and Mary next to him.

I thought of all the suffering I had offered to Jesus while looking at the window over the years and all the words I had spoken to Our Lady asking her to help me be a better, gentler, more accepting and more trusting mom.  Then, I looked at my husband, who has stood by my side through every joy and challenge, at our other children, at the parishioners around me and back to the altar.  I was overwhelmed with thanksgiving.

After Mass, as Luke delighted in his final job of the day, gratitude, hope and all that is good beamed brightly.

Luke is an altar boy (and no fires were started!)  

If you asked me back when I wrote about how Luke at Mass engenders prayer, trust and reaching out if I'd ever be saying that, I might have said, "It would take a miracle."

Well, miracles happen. 

May the testimony of my son's call (and success!) to become an altar boy encourage you.  I would love to hear about your personal struggles and successes regarding children and church.

Please feel free to share about them in comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.  If you leave a link to an idea, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board
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