Originally written in 2017 for a different audience, this older story describes a successful trip to Mass. I’ve edited it for our AofA readers today.
From week to week, Ronan’s ability to sit through Mass varies quite a bit. One week, Ronan can sit through an entire Mass. The next week, he may refuse to even walk into the church. Lately, there has been no consistency in his ability to be successful at church. Instead of pushing him to do something he's unable to do yet, the family and I have decided to split up going to church. My husband goes to the early Mass while I go later. It's not what we want to do, but it ensures that the rest of us can fulfill our Sunday obligation. Occasionally, when my husband is traveling for work over a weekend like he was this weekend, I have to get creative.
I didn't want to send the kids on their own, which I’ve done before. So I didn't. I took a chance by taking all five of the kids to the noon Mass. I'm very happy that we did!
Ronan recognized where we were going, even though the church was not our home parish, and he easily transitioned into the building. Upon entering, we found a quiet section and got settled. Within five minutes, though, Ronan was ready to leave. I told him we'd do a countdown, and then I prayed that he'd last longer than the 100 seconds I was slowly counting backwards.
He signed ‘all done’ and proceeded to put the kneeler in the up position.
Not wanting a struggle, which has happened plenty of times at church in the past, I held his hand and guided him out of the pew. ‘All done, all done, all done’, he signed. "I know, buddy. Let's go back to the car. The kids will stay here," I whispered. Ronan hesitated. The kids? He looked back at his siblings and froze. A confused look came over him as he pointed to them.
I repeated, "Yes, the kids are staying."
Ronan didn't like that answer, so he sat in the pew we were trying to go around. Pointing a very straight index finger at his big sister, he indicated that he wanted her to come with us. "Oh, she's staying," I quietly reiterated. Ronan started to tap his hand on his leg, a self-regulation technique he does when we do a countdown to help keep himself calm. He "taps down" letting me know that he knows that an end is in sight.
Ronan pointed again to the other siblings. I reminded him that they were staying for the entire Mass as well. He was not pleased, but he did not get frustrated when I shared that information. He contemplated quietly before pointing to the siblings. Hoping they'd come with him, he began to tap his leg once more.
Then he picked up the Bible.
Then he started thumbing through the Bible.
Then he started to read it!
At this point, Fiona walked over to where we were. With a smile on her face, she encouraged him to keep sitting quietly and to keep reading. If he could stay in the church, I could stay, too. It looked like he could do that. She and I beamed! I smiled even more when the other siblings, about four pews ahead of us, glanced back at us. Signing to them, Fiona let them know that Ronan was reading the Bible. Wide-eyed and grinning, they were as excited as we were.
Ronan was content. He kept his focus in the New Testament section and gravitated toward St. Paul's letters. For ten minutes, he scanned pages, read, pointed to words, and read some more. Engrossed in all that he saw, Fiona and I noticed that he kept going back to two verses - one in Revelations about Jesus' second coming and this one from Hebrews:
"Never will I leave you:
never will I forsake you."
So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?" (Heb 13: 5-6)
He was not going to leave those siblings behind. How profound!
Ronan flipped back and forth through the books of the Bible during the rest of the Mass. He wanted to leave during Communion but did a great job waiting for all of us to have the chance to receive. With five minutes left, Fiona flashed me another smile. She was so proud of her brother. He did a great job, and he was able to lean on her to help make it through something he is usually unable to tolerate.
After we returned home that day, I found myself repeating the verse: "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid..." I do fear things - like the seizures, like the other medical problems, like being able to afford everything a special needs child needs. But a message I needed to remember was clear - The Lord will help.
And He has.
I know that God helps me. Every single day, I am blessed by His love. Not only was that message clear, it was so perfectly timed and delivered by the always-inspiring Ronan. What a treat it was for us to be at Mass with him that day!
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.