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Like little children

We took the children to Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last week. This outing is a favorite pilgrimage for our family, one we make several times a year. Often, when we go, my husband is directing the televised Mass for EWTN. So, we arrive several hours early. He works on the details that go into a show in advance and the children and I are left to wander through the Shrine's small chapels. Since we visit frequently, everyone has his or her favorite place to stop and light a vigil candle.

Karoline is two now and she is certainly struggling to find her "church voice." I remarked to Mike that it was my intent to spend the entire time before Mass practicing a reverent whisper with her. We began in the lower Crypt Church. Everyone lined up outside the confessional and one by one, we each went in to receive the full offering of grace available there. Everyone, that is, except for Karoline. She protested. In her strong, clear voice, she declared, "I had my half birthday! I am big enough to sin and I want to go to confession, too!" The nuns waiting in line with us laughed so hard without appearing to laugh that they had tears in their eyes.

From the confessional, we made our way to the Crypt Church. There is a statue there, with a small fountain. Karoline blessed herself with the water; she's very proud of her ability to make the sign of the cross. Then, noting the money in the bottom of the fountain, she asked if I had a penny to throw. I did not. "That's all right," she declared in that all-too-loud voice, "I'll recycle one." And she reached in shoulder deep to retrieve a penny. We fished her out before she was swimming and reminded her again of church manners.

We made our way up to Upper Church for Mass. It was the Memorial Day Mass and the Knights of Columbus were there in full regalia. As they solemnly processed in and lined the altar at a salute, Karoline noted their hats, "Oh, it's beautiful. A purple hat with feathers. It's my favorite color. I want a hat like that." Thank goodness the music trumpeted above my sweet child's still loud voice.

We lasted in the pew until the homily began. Then, Miss Noisy asked to hold the baby. I sternly shook my head and put my finger to my lips to remind her to be quiet. Her lip quivered. "I love my baby. I need to hold her." Three ladies in front of us turned around. My cue to leave. I took the baby and Karoline to the Queen of Ireland chapel. This has long been a favorite. I remember Katie sitting with me there when she was Karoline's age. I nursed the baby. Karoline talked to Mary. At first, she was whispering, but as she grew more excited her voice rose. Finally, she burst into song: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, too. Watch over me and all I do! Help me be like you each day...Her voice rang out, clear and true, and she was just out of reach as I tried to disconnect the nursing baby and get to her. I reminded her that we were in church. She noted that this statue, too, had pennies just waiting to be recycled.

We walked past a small rosary chapel. Karoline went in and knelt ever so quietly. She had her brief moment with Mary and skipped away. I adjusted the baby in her sling and hastened to keep up. We stopped briefly and watched the altar from the back of the church. "Karoline," I whispered, "let's just wait here quietly. I don't want to miss Jesus."

"Oh, Mommy," she informed me, loudly enough for all to hear, "I'm so sorry. Don't you remember? We had Easter. He's already in heaven." Back out to the vestibule.

Now, there was a darling two-year-old girl in the rosary chapel, dancing. She beamed at us in the doorway. Karoline graciously accepted her invitation. I stepped inside to find another mother, nursing a baby, drinking in the utter beauty of this place, and trying to enjoy a child's enthusiasm while instruct on the finer points of good behavior. Kinship.

Not long after, we went back into the church for communion. Mary Beth carried Karoline, who was crying by now and insistent that she wanted Jesus for her tummy, too. Out the back door, one last time.

As we made our way back to the Queen of Ireland Chapel and her darling Holy Toddler, I kept my own toddler firmly by the hand, sweet baby going along for the ride in her sling. Karoline dragged me past the statue of St Therese, undoubtably eager to return to fountain and the pennies. I couldn't stop to read the St. Therese prayer suggested there. But the Little Flower and I are good friends, so my mind began to whirl all the same. This curly-headed two-year-old is named Karoline Rose. Her middle name is "Rose," because we believe that she is indeed a rose sent to us through the intercession of St. Therese. It is fitting then I was reminded me that the dear saint said:

"For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love,... I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers.... I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and He understands."

No doubt, St. Therese smiled bemusedly on the little flower that flitted through Mary's House and left no doubt in anyone's mind that she loves God, loves the sacraments, loves the Blessed Mother, loves Jesus and loves her own baby. He understands her surge of heart.

We'll keep working on that whispering thing.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009