By Joel Stepanek
When you bring young children to Mass, your heart rate goes up; your blood pressure rises; and sometimes, you find yourself in fight-or-flight mode from the moment the opening hymn sounds until you hear the words "Go in peace." Even if your parish has gone to great lengths to make families feel welcome – as mine has – there is always a spike of anxiety when your little one starts to make noise.
With the babies, there is babbling or crying. Sometimes, there is an unmistakable noise signaling an imminent diaper change; these things are not unexpected. But with older kids, the game changes. They can talk.
For me, nothing is more unnerving than the over-loud chatter of my 4-year old during Mass.
So, imagine how flustered I was when both our 4-and-5-year-olds started talking during the elevation – that beautiful moment when the priest holds up the consecrated Eucharist and everyone bows in reverent silence. It's a moment of profound silence, when many silently acknowledge, "My Lord and my God."
And then there were my kids. Talking. Loudly. At first, I didn't even realize what they'd said; I'd simply heard their voices and registered "volume." I anticipated in dread the looks I'd be getting from the people around me. You know the looks. But when I turned to apologize, I was surprised.
One woman had tears in her eyes. Another man smiled and nodded in a childlike and almost giddy way. Another fought back tears and buried his head into his hands, returning to deeper prayer. A teenager quietly said, "Whoa, that's cool."
Suddenly, it sunk in, what my children had said. As the priest held up the host, both of them had said, "I love you, Jesus!"
They were loud enough for people around us to hear, and sincere enough for hearts to be convicted of a profound reality affirmed from the mouths of children. We hear the priest say, "This is my body," and "This is my blood," but overfamiliarity can render us disconnected from those words and the reality they pronounce.
But in that moment, my children reminded all of us of who we were there for and what that God-man – Jesus Christ – was offering us: a gift of love; a gift of his body, blood, soul and divinity.
Too often, we parents are so busy trying to keep our kids focused, or wrangling 6-month olds, that we get distracted; our minds wander, and we lose sight of the love poured out for us at Mass. We flub our responses to that love. This is why Jesus desires revival for us; he wants us to fall in love again. He wants us to, with childlike faith and full hearts, be with him, and to welcome him in the Blessed Sacrament and say, "I love you, Jesus."
After Mass, I learned that my wife had taught our children that simple prayer, so they could begin to learn the lifelong lessons: that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol but truly is Jesus Christ; and that in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus initiates a dialogue. When the priest holds up the consecrated host, there is Jesus saying to us, "I love you." My children, learning to speak to Christ, responded in the very best way by saying, "I love you" in return.
My blood pressure lowered that day, and I was convicted of my need for a savior, and a need to fall in love again. I was convicted by my own children who, by the grace of God, were loud at Mass instead of quiet. I was convicted by those around me who encountered the Lord in a new way that day.
It was a moment of revival and, if we can remain childlike in our faith, I believe the Eucharistic Revival moving across our country will occasion many more like it – becoming something transformative for our families and parishes, and our world.
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Joel Stepanek is chief mission officer for the National Eucharistic Congress Inc. and is responsible for guiding the teams that empower and energize the grassroots efforts of the Eucharistic Revival.