In a curious piece in Aleteia, David Mills wonders if having a fat bank account doesn’t make being open to life easier and if the bourgeois class of Catholics aren’t being just a little insensitive promoting openness to life when so many people can’t afford more than one or two children.
A Common Misunderstanding
Sadly, among other problems, (like not mentioning NFP or the doctrine of responsible parenthood which contextualizes the Church’s teaching on openness to life) David perpetuates a common misunderstanding that the only way to be open to life is to be open to conception. Through the doctrine of “integral procreation” (c.f., #18), the Church reminds us that creating a certain number of children is not the goal of being open to life. What is the goal? Cultivating an openness of heart to receive all the blessings God wants to give. And God can bless families of different circumstances in different ways.
Many Different Blessings
As I explain in both Holy Sex! and in the new, revised and expanded, 2nd edition of For Better…FOREVER! , while the Church does most definitely teach that children are a blessing and that large families are praiseworthy, integral procreation reminds us that being open to life does not end at conception and birth. Rather, it finds its fulfillment in the way parents commit themselves to forming well-developed Christian persons by attending conscientiously to the temporal, psychological, emotional, spiritual and relational needs a child has at each age and stage.
Family Size is a Red Herring
Mills falls for a red herring when he interprets “openness to life” as directly related to family size. Contrary to his assertion, the Church’s teaching to being open to life is not insensitive to the poor, because the Church, in fact, teaches that being open to life should be understood more broadly than simply having a large family. Parents who, for serious economic, health, or other reasons, have one or two children may, according to integral procreation, be just as generous and self-donative as a family with 10 children if they are attending with their whole heart to the formation of healthy Christian persons in their home. Likewise, a family of 10 (or more) children could, according to integral procreation, be actually be less open to life than a smaller family if that larger family fails to respond to the spiritual, emotional, temporal, or relational needs of their older children because they are so busy concentrating exclusively on having and raising babies. This is why Pope Francis told Catholic families that they do not have to be “like rabbits” in order to be faithful. It’s also why he decried the fact that so many children are being raised like orphans in their own homes, deprived of the time and emotional connection they need from their mothers and fathers.
Do Not Yearn For Wicked Offspring
It is also why Sirach 16: 1-3 (which is only in the Catholic bible) says, “Do not yearn for worthless children, or rejoice in wicked offspring. Even if they be many, do not rejoice in them if they do not have fear of the LORD. Do not count on long life for them, or have any hope for their future. For one can be better than a thousand; rather die childless than have impious children!”
Being “open to life” might very well be a bourgeois idea that is romantic for the rich and a burden to the poor if, in fact, the Church really taught holiness by the numbers. Fortunately, she does not.
If you want to be authentically open to life, then by all means, have as many children as you can fully and responsibly form into adults who know how to love God with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength and love their neighbors as themselves. If you do this, no matter what number of children you have–be they 1 or 100–your family’s name will be praised in Heaven.