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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bored, distracted, and overstimulated

Domenico has another great post up called Bored, distracted, and overstimulated. Totally true.

Ever since I returned to the Church, I have always been impressed at the behavior of certain children at Mass when compared to other children. I bet you've noticed the same thing:

Family 1 - The children file in basically quietly, sit down in the pew, and pretty much stay there observing Mass (with varying levels of comprehension or interest, likely). Perhaps the younger one plays with Mom's rosary, or sits on Dad's lap and looks at the misselette, perhaps the baby needs to be taken to the cry room now and again, but for the most part the kids are well behaved and still. So well-behaved in fact that when left all alone in the pew, these kids stay in their spots (with maybe a few more pokes - they are kids after all). At the end of Mass, outside, these kids explode with energy and prove themselves to be "normal" kids after all, not just little statues.

Family 2 - During Mass, the children are all over the pew, driving Mom & Dad crazy. In an effort to distract the children, Mom drags out the bottomless Mary Poppins carpet bag filled with goodies, and the children soon begin throwing Cheerios at each other or grinding them into the pews. Soon the rustling of the bag is heard again, and then the clanging of a toy car hitting the pew. Then "zoom zoom" sounds as the lad races his car along the back of the pew, until he drops it onto his sister's head and she starts to cry and hits him with her board book. These are the kids that start singing loudly the Sesame Street song (don't get me started on that show!) during the Consecration and ask Dad when they can go. Oh, and I have to go to the bathroom. At the end of Mass, they explode outside exactly the same as their friends from the first family.

Admit it. You've all seen both these types of extremes at Mass (granted, most families are in the middle - but I bet still tilted one way or the other). I also bet that many of you have blown off the behavior of the first family, perhaps also making a comment such as "What do they do, drug the kids?", "Just let them have MY kid for the day", "Home schoolers", "Strange family", or (with a shake of the head) "Not normal".

Now, don't get me wrong, I completely acknowledge, as Domenico did, that a lot of this does have to do with the personality of the child. Some kids are obviously going to be more active than others, more inclined to "boredom" than others. However, like Domenico, I see a direct correlation between the overstimulation of children by their parents and the world, and their "boredom" at Mass. Likewise, I see a direct correlation between the overstimulation of adults by themselves and the world, and their "boredom" at Mass (usually seen by crossed arms, glazed eyes, and the sprint to the parking lot, instead of clanging toy cars on pews). As Fr. Stan Fortuna so aptly put it:

“You are deeply and profoundly bored before you walk into the church, and when you come into the presence of the Almighty in the fullness of love, it is then that the awareness of your boredom begins to bubble,” he said.

Many people merely distract themselves from their boredom by turning something on, changing the channel, upgrading or downloading. This constant activity only “feeds the boredom beast,” he said.

Like father, like son! Is it coincidence that those who have reasonably well behaved children are also typically those who make Mass and the formation of their children in the faith a priority? I think not. I think it is the case of parents' example leading the children - the same way that parents who make Catholicism merely a "Sunday duty" are giving a different example to their children. This type of parenting doesn't just matter in the pews, however, as it seems to me that the principles behind this also help to account for the rest of the "family adventures" we see out there in society.

One of my favorite professors calls this modern day parenting nightmare the "Sesame Street Syndrome". Ever really sit down and WATCH that show as an adult? Try it. It's non stop activity, with constant leaping from fun times to fun times, oh and the number for the day is 3. What does this method of "edutainment" really teach our children? On the other hand, the other beloved children's favorite, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", has the exact opposite effect. Rather than attempting to "grab" the kid's attention for at least a fleeting moment, Mr. Rogers understood how to draw a child in and hold their attention on a subject.

The problem today is not with the kids themselves, I honestly think it comes back to the overstimulation of the culture at large, and the expectation of parents that children cannot understand and must always be entertained and "distracted". This, I think, comes from the fact that the parents themselves are bored with the world and all their "things", but they think that the solution to this is yet more "things". Therefore, Johnny of course needs even more things than I have to keep him from being bored. It's a cycle of destruction, far as I can see. Endless stimulation leads to endless boredom, whether you are 2 or 92.

True story - some friends of mine had a 2-year-old boy (now 4). This child was as squirmy as any kid I've ever seen, but when they brought him into church for Mass, he was dead silent and awe struck at everything around him. Why? I think it is because they did not condescend his youth - instead, they constantly stayed with him, murmuring to him what was going on, why they were doing what they were doing, what was happening up on the altar. Instead of assuming that he couldn't understand what was going on, and attempting to "time the distraction" of toys to the Consecration, they assumed he COULD know what was happening and who Jesus is. And so he did. And so can your child - if they're not already addicted to the 30 second rule of entertainment!


Blogger Maureen said...

Mr Rogers was hard to follow. I never could figure out the whole thing about running around to different people's houses, and the creepy puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Also, he talked to you directly, which was weird and vaguely offputting, although he himself seemed nice.

The only part I liked was the taking off the shoes and putting on the shoes while singing. I could have watched that all day.

Sesame Street, OTOH, is logical. All of its scenes and songs had a point. And the Muppets and Sesame Street adults were much less creepy than the puppets and Mr. Rogers adults.

The only part I didn't like about that show was when they had adult guests, and you were supposed to know who they were and be impressed. All the kids on the show knew who they were, but you couldn't see any reason why they would (other than having been briefed by the show).

Both shows' neighborhoods, being so urban, looked totally unlike anyplace I'd ever been (which is probably why the Neighborhood of Make-Believe struck me as overkill). Even the old New Zoo Revue was much more like real life in that respect.

August 21, 2007 10:07 AM  

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