Pope Francis’ comments in his June 2 homily—the one in which he urged married couples to have children instead of pets—have stirred up controversy, which at this point, should strike no one as surprising. He is a Pope who challenges the “comfortable,” or, in this case, challenges the “culture of well-being.”
In his homily, Pope Francis warned married couples that the “culture of well-being” tells them that it is better not to have children; he cautioned against the temptation to forsake having children for the lure of material goods. Lest anyone think that this is a non-issue, Time magazine ran a cover article in August 2013 about “The Childfree Life: Having it All without Having Children,” complete with a glamorous cover photo of a beautiful young couple sunbathing on a beach—alone, no kids, no sand toys or sand castles in sight. At a time when birthrates are declining to record lows, this issue is a pertinent one.
We have become a society that does not value the life of children. No, perhaps that is too harsh. We value the life of children when we plan for children, when children fit into our blueprint for life. We see this issue of control perhaps most clearly in the tragedy of abortion (as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta lamented, “It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish”) but the battle rages much more subtly, as well. Yesterday a friend shared a blog post titled “To the lady ashamed of being pregnant with her fourth.”
In this post the author describes her encounter with a pregnant woman in an elevator, who, after sharing that she was pregnant with her fourth child, was relieved when her elevator companion congratulated her instead of expressing her condolences. She also shared how often people had asked her if this baby was “planned.”
My husband and I are expecting our first child, and one of the most surprising elements of my pregnancy so far has been the number of people who have, point-blank, asked me if this baby was “planned.” The first few times it happened, I was floored, and truly did not know how to respond to such a question. Since reading the above blog post yesterday, I’ve decided I will borrow the author’s answer to this discourteous question, “Yes, God planned for this child from time immemorial, and I will do my best with this life that is entrusted to me.” Because isn’t that what Christ does when He blesses us with a child—He entrusts the life of this precious little one to us?
And what is so wrong with an unplanned pregnancy, anyway? Many of the great figures of Judaism and Christianity were “unplanned” pregnancies. Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, Samuel, son of Elkanah and Hannah, John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and Zechariah—all were “unplanned.” The birth of Christ himself was “unplanned.” Imagine how differently the story of the Visitation would read if Elizabeth had greeted Mary with, “My dear cousin! Was this pregnancy planned?” Instead of “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). Yet our society does not always greet pregnancy with such joy.
The Catholic Church goes so far as to teach that one of the purposes of marriage is to have and to raise children. Ever been to a Catholic wedding? Try counting the many references to “being fruitful” and to children. The theology of it all is downright beautiful. Just as Christ’s love bears fruit in the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony, and Holy Orders—as Pope Francis reminded us in his homily—so too should the love of a married couple bear fruit.
Sometimes, tragically, a couple is unable to bear children, and in this case the fruitfulness of the couple is expressed in other ways. And the Church isn’t saying to have as many children as is humanly possible. But to deliberately thwart the fruitfulness that is part of the essence of marriage is an affront to the sacrament itself.
When we deliberately deprive sex of one of its purposes—namely, to create life—we utter a resounding “no” to God. We have been made to love, and our love is made to bear fruit. When we remove the procreative element from sex, we take away the mutual responsibility and privilege that a couple shares with each other and with God.
But we don’t care anymore. We don’t want what we can’t control. We don’t want to let go and let God, we want to let go and let the Pill. We choose the path of comfort and control—why?
Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “They think that faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it’s the cross.” That, in a nutshell, is what is going on in our world today. We don’t want the cross anymore. We reject the cross. We want the comfort of faith, we want to know that Christ loves us and forgives us no matter what—and he does. But Christ calls us to take up our crosses and follow him. Just a few weeks ago Christ reminded us in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Ever thought about the very first commandment listed in the Bible? Its Genesis 1:28—Be fruitful and multiply.