Growing up Catholic means NFP was a familiar word to me. As I entered my teen and college years, I was aware of its existence, but that was about the extent of my understanding. It wasn’t until I was nearing marriage that I actually took the time to read about what it was myself, get educated on the actual practice of the method, and decide along with my new husband that we would openly and willingly choose to follow this method when thinking about our future family.
Over the years, I have become used to questions and comments regarding our choice to use NFP. As a matter of fact I have even come to expect it when the “dreaded” topic of family planning comes up in discussions, especially with those who view NFP as a foreign concept. However something happened this last week at Mass that opened my eyes to a possible contributing reason for this.
I was sitting in church with my five children and husband. Our youngest daughter was born with a brain condition and is developmentally delayed. She also has a feeding tube that causes her to have belly aches and sometimes just has outbursts she nor we can control. As we were sitting through the readings, I read her cues that she just wasn’t going to last. She started to fuss a little and arch (which typically means headache from the pressure or bellyache from her feed) so I picked her up along with her feeding bag and began to make my way out the back door to the narthex. Once out in the back, she calmed a little, but still had the occasional fusses and screams as she struggled with whatever it was that was bothering her. I just held her and loved on her and watched the Mass through the glass. Besides the usual random cry or chirp or babble, I hadn’t heard any other children being inappropriate in the church (with the exception of one other father who had brought his little boy out back who was having a “toddler moment.”) Before the Holy Holy started, I noticed a very pregnant pause in the flow of the liturgy. The gap and silence caught my attention of course. Then, a woman’s voice came over the microphone and said “just to remind you there IS a nursery for children.”
I paused for a moment thinking to myself “Did I just hear that?” An usher walked by and I stopped her asking “Did the cantor just say what I think she said?” The usher said “Yes, I have never heard that before!” I agreed. In the 6 years of attending this parish, I had never heard such an announcement! The usher said she would speak with the priest after Mass to inquire about the event. I thanked her and she walked on. And this was the moment NFP came to mind.
NFP you say? Who thinks of family planning and the Catholic church at a moment like that? Well I did. I started to think of all the wonderful education we have now about NFP and the different methods to use, the classes, the instructors, and the excellent marriage prep that is available to educate young people that may have heard of it but not quite understood what it was about (like me before I was married). And then I started to think what a gap we must have once we teach about NFP. There is some sort of disconnect that occurs between practicing the method, and realizing that it extends too far beyond the family decisions of a Catholic couple.
The first thought that popped in my head were the many young families I know who are good people, and even love the church, but do not bring themselves or their children to Mass because of exactly what had happened at our Mass that day. I thought of the many young families who WERE in Mass, struggling to make it and have the baby or toddler or special needs child last just that little bit longer so they can at least make it through communion without having to go out back. I lastly thought of that young family who maybe tried for the very first time to bring their child/ren to Mass that day, only to be met with such an announcement.
While the announcement was distasteful to me, I was not deterred by it. No matter what, I will be at Mass and I will be there with my children. It’s not always easy, but that’s just me.. I can press on and move through it. However I know not everyone functions like that. And that is what made me sad that day. Where is the support after families follow through and use NFP? Where is the understanding of young families trying to bring their children to Mass? Where is the joy in hearing the occasional squeal or baby babble and realizing they are possibly experiencing the same holiness and joy we feel in celebrating the Eucharist? NFP extends far beyond the family unit. It extends into our Church family once the fruits of this method are among us, and we must have more patience to encourage parents and young ones that they are in fact doing the right thing.
To be fair, I am not trying to advocate screaming tantrums in Mass. I get it. It is a place of reverence and a place of prayer and the Eucharist. I have been there done that with my children when they have had their unruly days. I have dragged (figuratively speaking) many a child out the back of the church as she wailed or cried or had one of those oh so lovely toddler moments of drama. It happens. But when the “noise” consists of a chirp, or short cry, or short fuss, or even soft talking as the parents try to quiet the child, I feel we need a gentle reminder that this is what NFP is all about. To nourish life, to be open to life, and to accept the life God gives us. I think this also extends into spiritual life, especially that of our young ones.
NFP is a process of communication and discovery among Catholic couples. It is about learning and listening and working together while listening to God’s will for our lives. This is really the same for our children. Children are the epitome of discovery and curiosity. We yearn for them to learn – when they start reading we are proud. When they finally ‘get’ the tricky math problem we applaud them. When they show interest and curiosity into a new scientific concept, we get excited for them. These learning methods are very important for children – and must translate from our discovery of the NFP process all the way to the children born of that process sitting in Mass making their own discoveries about God and His will for their lives.
As for the cantor, I hold no judgement or discontent. The comment was wrong, but I don’t know what kind of day she was having, what prompted her to make such a comment, or what influenced her to make the announcement in the negative tone that she did. But I would ask that she realize a lot of the “noise” she is hearing is our future generation of the Church. This is the way we acclimate our children to the Mass, the traditions, the sacred meaning of the Eucharist. Every parent does the best they can – for some it does mean using the nursery, for some it means standing in the back, for some it means struggling in the sanctuary with the little ones. But no parent should ever feel sorry or guilty their little ones are at Mass. No parent should feel the discomfort their children may by “disturbing others” and most of all, no parent should second guess bringing their children because of a misplaced mid-Mass announcement.
No matter what, we must always be welcoming of children at Mass. We are the example as a community of practicing Catholics. We have to guide them and be patient in this discovery. This can be our “long term NFP” as a Church family. The NFP promises we make in a marriage can continue to help us accept our openness to life and our nourishing of God’s children. The children that He so lovingly has given to families who are trying their best to follow His word and be open to His heavenly gifts.