I had half an hour to kill, and as a young mom with a busy schedule, 30 minutes of free time doesn’t come very often. My daughter and I were early for lunch with a friend, and rather than getting to the restaurant and strapping my squirmy 1-year-old into a high chair before I had to, I decided we would swing by the perpetual adoration chapel at our parish.
I love that tiny chapel. Its concrete walls and uncomfortable chairs have been a home to me for years, and as I pulled into a parking spot I excitedly realized this was the first time I was bringing my daughter, Rose, there. I had spent countless hours praying in that chapel over the years—for her father and I, for my students, for friends and family. And now, I would get to share this space and this prayer with her, for just a few minutes.
Armed with a backpack full of snacks, a sippy cup of water, a few books and quiet toys and her rainbow teething rosary, we walked in. My normally squirmy daughter was perfectly still as I held her in my arms, looking around at this new space, taking it all in. As she caught sight of the monstrance, with Jesus in the Eucharist exposed for all to see, she stared, captivated, I am sure, by the gold and jewels and overcome, I believe, by the presence of the Lord.
I take confidence in the fact that I am teaching the faith to my child, who greets Jesus the same way she greets our loved ones.
I whispered to her quietly: “That’s Jesus, Rose. That’s Jesus. Can you say ‘hi’ to Jesus?” Immediately, she pointed and waved at the monstrance and excitedly babbled her little 1-year-old hello. She does the same thing when we point out saints in stained glass windows, when we direct her attention to the altar during the consecration at Mass and when we kiss the images of Jesus and Mary goodnight each evening as we put her to bed. And I have seen that excited little wave before, when friends and family come over, when we FaceTime our relatives who live far away. It never ceases to warm my heart, and I take confidence in the fact that I am teaching the faith to my child, who greets Jesus the same way she greets our loved ones.
We stood there quietly for a moment, just gazing at the Lord together. I was so completely absorbed watching my child look at the monstrance that I did not notice the older woman sitting in a chair in the far corner of the chapel, staring at us disapprovingly. I know it was a disapproving look because as I made eye contact with her and smiled, she very curtly said: “You can’t just stand there, you’re blocking the door. And don’t make noise. You need to be silent.”
I have never felt so small, insignificant or unwelcomed in my life than in that single moment after I showed my child Jesus in the monstrance for the first time and was met with a harsh tone, disapproving words and a cold stare from a fellow Catholic.
“You need to be silent” are not words I associate with being Catholic. In fact, they are words I would say are decidedly anti-Catholic because our church and our faith and our sacraments and our prayer and our worship and our encounter with the Lord is far from this perfectly silent, perfectly orchestrated, nice, neat and tidy experience. Have you ever been to a baptism? The baby usually screams, and everyone smiles and comforts the child shocked by the cold water on their head. Have you ever attended a first Communion Mass? It is “organized” chaos, and oh-so-beautiful. Have you gotten married? Even in the moments of reverent quiet, there is a buzz of joyful, noisy energy filling the church. Have you set foot in a parish on a Sunday morning, when families are hopefully filling the pews with squirmy kids who ask to go potty and stand on the pews to see and parishioners are picking up their hymnals and singing way off key and responding with gusto to every prayer? It is nothing if not noisy.
“You need to be silent” are not words I associate with being Catholic. They are words I would say are decidedly anti-Catholic.
In fact, the churches that are perfectly silent and empty of noise are churches that will be empty of parishioners and closed very soon because those are the churches that have shut their doors to the joyful noise we are called to make for the Lord—noise that comes from young families, passionate believers (both young and old) and youth and young adults who want to make a mess as they encounter Jesus and grow to love the sacraments. A silent church is a dead church because life makes joyful noise.
A few weeks ago, as a Thursday evening session was about to begin at the synod on young people at the Vatican, Pope Francis stopped shaking hands with bishops and cardinals down at the head table and instead climbed the stairs of the synod hall to greet the young adult auditors milling around in the back. As he shook hands and took pictures, he said to them, “Make more noise.”
All through the synod, the young adult participants have whooped and hollered their approval or dismay as speeches have been given, breathing new life into the process. They have been vibrant and vocal in their discussions; they have been brave and bold with their interventions; they have been honest and forthright with their criticisms and insights. They have made noise, and this is a model of what parishes and dioceses can encourage faithful men and women to do: show up and make their voices heard.
A silent church is a dead church because life makes joyful noise.
As a young professional, wife and mom, hearing that Pope Francis encouraged the auditors to keep making noise was an encouragement to me. It reminded me that as a young mom I and my child have every right to show up to an adoration chapel, even if she is going to be squirmy. It is my place to pray, too. It reminded me that as a young wife I have every right to ask my diocese to provide better resources for marriage prep and teaching natural family planning and helping young couples through the first few years, and I have every right to offer to spearhead and aid in those efforts. It reminded me that as a young professional I should not be afraid to approach my pastor with ideas to improve the parish bulletin or parish website or ways our parish can engage with those who may be new to the parish and seeking a home in our church.
For far too long, we Catholics have simply gone to church. And often when we have shown up, we have been met with a disapproving stare and a curt hush.
What if we stopped going to church and we started being the church?
But what if we stopped going to church and we started being the church? What if we did as Pope Francis encouraged the auditors—and the rest of us—to do? What if we started making and kept making noise? What if we showed up, spoke up, offered our gifts, made use of our talents and served the church vibrantly, joyfully, faithfully and noisily?
That is the church I want my squirmy 1-year-old to grow up in: the church full of noisy people, vibrant worship and passionate prayer.
That is the church I want my little girl to love: the church that welcomes her at every age and makes space for her, even if we have to put a basket of quiet kid toys in the corner of the adoration chapel or reserve pews at the front for families to sit so their kids can see what is going on.
That is the church I want my child to be a member of: the Body of Christ that rejoices and serves and prays together, with every member—young and old and in-between—greeting each other not with shushes and hushed tones but with joyful smiles, open arms and helping hands.
That is the church I think this synod on young people is trying to articulate to us more clearly—a church of noisy believers, who make a joyful noise for the Lord, so we can change the world.