To Shepherd or Not to Shepherd.

Recently, a Catholic church in Minnesota has acquired a restraining order against some of their parishioners, in an attempt to prevent them from bringing their autistic 13 year old child to Mass. The pastor of the parish, Rev. Daniel Waltz, said that Church of St. Joseph, in Bertha, has tried to make "reasonable accommodation" for Adam, including allowing him to watch the Mass from the church basement.

This is a difficult situation for all involved, I am sure. As a Catholic for over thirty years, I can tell you this is no small matter. The Catechism of the Catholic church states:

The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of
requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic
celebration when the Christian community gathers together on the day
commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord.

That is as unambiguous as it sounds. It is considered a grave mortal sin to not attend Mass or regularly take Communion without good reason. Even bedridden Catholics are required to take Communion. Catholics view the Holy Eucharist as a sacrament; required for the impartation of Grace. In contrast, Protestants view it as an emblem, a reminder of Christ's sacrifice.

As the Children's Network Pastor at Gospel Light, I cannot imagine a situation where we would ask someone not to come to worship on Sunday. That presupposes, however, that there is no danger to the other congregants. Still, it is quite common in Catholic churches (and many Protestant churches as well) to have a "crying room" where children who might disturb the Mass or service can be - well, children.

I'm not sure that St. Joseph's position is all that unreasonable. Is the mother, who is obviously trying to protect her son spiritually as well as emotionally, in danger of sinning herself by failing to consider the safety and peace of her fellow parishioners? A Catholic Mass is a solemn thing; it is a solemnity which is difficult for many lifelong Protestants (especially Evangelicals) to understand.

At Gospel Light, we have a nursery for young children under the age of six. We are also about to launch a kids church program for those up to 9. This takes place during the sermon; the children are with their families for worship and special activities. But this is more about delivering age-appropriate teaching than it is about a distraction-free service. (although there is that benefit as well.)

Did not Jesus tell the disciples to "suffer the little children and do not hinder them?" At what point is the church's responsibility to the congregation greater than the responsibility to the congregant? At what point does the family need to take into consideration the rest of the fellowship? Is what the church offered unreasonable? (I suppose it depends on the image in your mind; a modern, comfortable room with good video and sound, or a dank church cellar with a little TV in the corner.)

Maybe, and I'm going out on a limb here, the pastor should lay some hands on the boy an pray over him. I think I read about that somewhere....

I'm not putting this out there to answer the question, but rather to provoke thought. If you have one, leave a comment; I'd like to read it.


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