by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Thank you to the many who responded to the questionnaire that was printed in The Leaven and was also on our archdiocesan website soliciting input for the upcoming synod on the family scheduled for October of this year.
I appreciate everyone who took the time to offer their insight on the state of marriage and family life, as well as to provide suggestions on how the church can better support married couples in living their vocation.
Included in the questionnaire were: How can a more open attitude toward having children be fostered? How can an increase in births
be promoted? These are questions that I have been pondering for some time. A few who responded to the questionnaire had the mistaken notion that the church attempts to tell couples how many children they should have.
Although not every couple will be able to conceive a child, an openness to having children is essential to marriage. Being able to conceive a child is not essential to marriage, but the willingness to be co-creators with God of a new human life is. Part of the reason that our culture is so confused about the definition of marriage is because this essential component of marriage is forgotten.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the purposes for marriage in these words: “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and the education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament” (No. 1660).
The church counsels couples to be generous in their openness to life. It also reminds couples of their responsibility in providing for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of their children. Parenthood is an awesome privilege, but also an incredible responsibility. The question for Catholic couples should not be: How many children do we want to have? The question for the Catholic couple is: How many children does God desire for our love to give life?
A couple, involved nationally with the formation of married couples, told me that early in their marriage, after the birth of their first two children, they asked a priest mentor: “How many children should we have?” The priest wisely counseled them that they should have as many children as God desired for them. He encouraged them to pray, asking God — if he wanted them to have more children — to place a desire in their heart for another child. They followed his advice and are the parents of 10 children!
The entire church is called to support and encourage married couples in providing for the human needs of their children as well as their responsibility to be their first and most important teachers of the faith. Parents communicate the truths of our Catholic faith to their children, not so much by what they say, but much more by the example of their lives.
The cultural bias today is that couples should have a maximum of two children. Parents of larger families have related to me how they have received critical comments, even from fellow Catholics, for having more than two children. The same individuals who advocate for the protection of endangered species of animals consider children a threat to the environment. These pseudo-environmentalists, of course, support the use of oral contraceptives, which chemically attack a woman’s healthy reproductive system.
As a small gesture to encourage Catholic married couples to be generous in their openness to life, I am offering to baptize any child who is at least a couple’s third child, which of course includes both biological and adoptive children. In the future, I will publish in The Leaven and in parish bulletins a schedule of group baptisms, as well as instructions on how to register for these baptismal liturgies.
My purpose in doing this is to demonstrate my personal support for those couples who take seriously the call to be generous in cooperating with God’s grace in giving life.
In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to lose their life in following him. Christian parenthood is a form of losing one’s own life. Being the parent of one child is demanding, but being a parent of a larger family requires remarkable generosity and sacrifice. Jesus also tells his disciples that in losing their lives they will discover the abundant life he promises.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the remarkable beauty of God’s design for marriage in these words:
“God created man and woman together and willed each for the other. The Word of God gives us to understand this through various features of the sacred text. ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.’ None of the animals can be man’s partner. The woman God ‘fashions’ from the man’s rib and brings to him elicits on the man’s part a cry of wonder, an exclamation of love and communion: ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ Man discovers woman as another ‘I,’ sharing the same humanity” (No. 371).
“Man and woman were made ‘for each other’ — not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be a ‘helpmate’ to the other, for they are equal persons (‘bone ofmybones…’)and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming ‘one flesh,’ they can transmit human life: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’ By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator’s work” (No. 372).
Wow! That is a vision that is worth living and dying for! Thanks to all married couples for accepting the call to heroic love!