(This article originally appeared in New Covenant magazine, and later appeared on Catholic Exchange.)
A Good Catholic Family
We see five kids, or six … or seven. Maybe one on the way. And we know. That’s a good Catholic family.
And they certainly are. Their openness to life is an apparent and beautiful witness. But what of those families whose children number only one, two or three? Are we to surmise anything about them?
The question is more than hypothetical for many. My husband and I, for example, strive to be faithful Catholics, to live out all the teachings of the Faith, including those on marriage and children. We have three children -- on earth. In Heaven there are five other souls whom I hope to meet someday. As we have suffered through miscarriages we have gained powerful prayer warriors in Heaven, but our large family isn't visible to the world. This is painfully clear every time I am confronted by the issue. The questions range from well-meaning to thoughtless (though never, I am certain, ill-willed):
"Do you want more?"
"Are you going to try for a boy?"
"Three? You need more!"
Awhile back I met a friend’s mother, and the conversation turned to children. I had two children at the time and I proudly rattled off my daughters' names and ages. She smiled politely. When another guest mentioned her five children, my acquaintance lit up. "That's wonderful!" she said. "So few people have that many these days!"
Ouch. She didn't mean to hurt me, but her words stung as surely as if she’d slapped me on the cheek. I had just lost a baby two weeks prior. I wanted to shout, "I want more -- I have more! They're in Heaven -- does that count?"
Of course she’d have been horrified to know that her words hurt me and of course I said nothing. Charity often demands silence. And it's worth noting that some of my reaction stems from pride. In the presence of people who value life I want them to know that I value it dearly, too. My openness to life is hidden in Heaven with my babies who (I hope and trust) pray daily for their mother to be less prideful and more able to handle the little stings that come her way. But still ... still ....
It hurts to be judged, yet it can be a vital wake-up call to not judge others. A few years ago I similarly judged an acquaintance. When I overheard her being asked about more children, I dismissed her curt response as that of one who is closed to life. I later found out that she’d been unable to conceive again, and I was jolted back to the reality of my own pain and my uncharitably quick judgment.
"Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts" -- 1 Corinthians, 4:5
I was reminded not to judge by the visible number of children. Good Catholic families come in all sizes and "only" one, two or three children may be the visible sign of parents who have suffered.
Conversely, families with many children can struggle in their own ways with openness to life. Occasionally, mothers-of-many can, during difficult or overwhelming times, feel just as "closed" to life as those who don’t understand Catholic teachings on contraception. It seems a cruel irony that a woman with eight children yells at God for the latest positive pregnancy test on the same day that another woman blames Him for the loss of her baby.
It is not a cruel irony, but a holy one. Only the Lord knows exactly what we need -- He is purifying each of us in His own way, allowing what He knows to be best, as we struggle to understand His movement in our lives.
And so, I turn to Him each day, both to understand His will for our family, and to ask for the grace to avoid judging others unfairly. Having struggled on both sides of the issue, I can say that perhaps the best response, when we hear, "Kids? Yes, we have two," is a simple, "And what blessings they must be!" Then, let's pray for one another. Now, that’s a sign of a good Catholic family.
(I am republishing essays that originally appeared online at Catholic Exchange, as not all the links -- via "old CE" -- are functional. That should be resolved at CE soon, but in the meantime, I hope to create new links to those pieces here on the blog.)