The other day I encountered another sad story. A woman who was filled with joy that she was carrying her fifth child but was afraid to tell anybody about it, a woman who was afraid of the comments she would receive for her gift of fertility and the joy of new life. I, as their priest, get this inside story all the time from couples. They are open to life and find it a natural and expected part of their marriage, but the outside world views it as irresponsible and a fruit of ignorance. It always makes me mad when I hear of such shaming.
In my ministry I’ve only seen one, maybe two, cases where I thought that the gift of fertility was being used irresponsibly. Both cases were in the 3rd world where there was poor education and poor resources. Other than that, the predominate disposition in this culture toward children is that 2 or 3 is enough because, you know, there are only so many resources and the world is over populated.
First of all, it’s always struck me as odd that those with the most resources are often the ones with the fewest number of children. They spend their money on luxuries, artificial contraceptives, and sterilization just to make sure there isn’t anything unplanned. Even if they were concerned about “over population,” few of them adopt children. It is the lower economic classes that are open to children; the rich play it safe. I always thought it should be the other way around.
In the investment world they talk about diversification; having investments in stocks, real estate, gold, and luxury items. No one talks about having too many investment options. My parents didn’t invest in any of those things, they only have a few savings accounts stitched together. Instead, they invested in children, all 9 of us with 13 grandchildren (and counting). I can assure you that they will not die alone, that there will always be someone to take care of them, and that their funeral will be well attended. What are you investing in?
Oh but, over populations! Ok, true, we need to be conscious of the world’s population. I don’t think that is why people are not open to large families, but sure, we live on one planet with some measure of limited resources. But, is the problem primarily the number of consumers in the world or consumerism as a general attitude. Is not the 1stworld, with the lowest population growth, the disproportionate user of natural resources? Which of these is more concerned about the environment; the large family who is naturally inclined to live simply and in a measured way or the couple with one child who has three cars, a large house that is half used, commutes to all sort of extra-curricular activities, consumes all sorts of things that they don’t need, and goes on all sorts of jet fuel consuming vacations?
Of course, don’t forget college; we need to make sure our child goes to college. I still don’t understand that one.
Before I continue, I want to make sure that I am not doing any counter shaming. I have no idea why some people have no children, one or two children, or 15 children. There are real health problems that may be involved, relational issues between the couple, psychological issues, etc. and etc. . . It may be the responsible thing for you to not have children and as long as you are using morally responsible means that’s Ok. However, we easily deceive ourselves and limit our generosity through false fears.
Having a large family is a valid vocation, one that we should rejoice in when we see it manifest. It is a vocation that easily disposes itself to the three hallmarks of a virtuous community: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Poverty, not to be confused with destitution, is the call to simplicity of life and generosity. There isn’t much need to explain how this applies. All the members need to share and live frugally. Chastity, one’s sexuality is synchronized with self-giving; one’s sexuality is governed and directed by the laws of fertility. Obedience, that is, a spirit of interdependency and an openness for the unexpected request. Children are in obedience to their parents and parents are in obedience to their children. They practice this through an availability to receive the requests of their children and an availability to receive that unexpected new addition.
Therefore a large family is a Christian community in itself, possessing an interior dynamic that disposes its members toward virtue. It is a heroic calling.
Of course, this vocation fits within the wide horizon of vocations. The world is in great need of individuals who can dedicate their lives to an array of life giving and generous vocations. We need people in the vocation of the single life and religious life who can devote their energy to caring for the greater community. We need couples who are open to adoption or suitable investments. But let’s not forget that what the world truly needs are examples of wholesome and generous communities, and one of these is the vocation of the large family.
So all of you who are expecting that new life; have no shame. Tell those critics that you’ve actually only started having a family.