So much potential in such a little package – and so much work for Mom and Dad!
Just this past weekend, I preached a bit about Natural Family Planning (NFP). I never assume that this is a popular topic with my congregation. There is a lot of evidence that having a large family is not the choice of many Christians. I often here stories from friends with large families that they experience nasty looks and derogatory comments from even total strangers. It is as if they did something wrong by having a large family. There is today much evidence of a bias towards the large family. But larger families are necessary for vocations! Without large and stable families, there are no priests or religious.
Large families create strong communities of love. It is obvious that much sacrifice is needed to have a large family. There are less in terms of material things in a larger family, as much time and effort is put into raising the children. This is worth the effort because when the older children grow up, they frequently help raise the younger children. They even take over a good share of the household chores. It is not impossible to manage a large family. Furthermore, large families tend to build a lot of character. The family is a very important identity marker for the child. It is even a source of pride. The child knows they come from somewhere, and that they belong there always. A final reason why large families help vocations is obvious: they can spare a son or daughter for the Lord’s service. It is not as pressing of a need for them to work and to procreate themselves.
It is upsetting to see the dropping numbers of people receiving a Sacramental marriage in the Church. The numbers have dropped tremendously in the past 5-10 years. Less marriages leads to less Baptisms. With less Baptisms, it is difficult to maintain Catholic schools, at least at the parish elementary level. With less Baptisms, and less schools, there will be a smaller pool of interested people in a vocation. Even those who do get married tend to have less children. This too, leads to less vocations, as the desire for grandchildren is very great.
There is understandably a great deal of social pressure from the secular world against stable marriages, large families, and religious practice. It is very hard to do! This isn’t just on the moral or intellectual level. There are very real economic (even legal) barriers that stack the deck against those who want to choose the traditional Catholic model. What are we to do? Should we simply allow our families to become a thing of the past? Will vocations to the Priesthood and religious life become a thing of the past? If we give in to societal pressure, that is what will happen. For perhaps the majority of society, this moment already arrived a long time ago. What are we to do?
It is not a mandate that families be large. And, sadly, some marriages are so damaged that they cannot go on. Often times, one party in a marriage will initiate a divorce, and the other party can do nothing about it. Our families may not be judged “ideal”. This essay is not about passing judgment on families. Rather, we should not accept the bias against the large Catholic family. Is there something wrong with it? No! Of course not. Those who strongly intellectually oppose a large family unit often harbor anti-life, materialist, selfish ends. If we want our society to flourish – if we want our Church to thrive – we need more people! The more people there are, the more creativity, ingenuity, and life there will be. This is especially true if children are born into stable, faith-filled families with dedicated parents.
It is ironic that we need more marriages with lots of kids so that we can have more celibates! But it is true. Having lots of kids is not a litmus test for fidelity – as if you are a poor Catholic if you don’t have lots of kids. Many fine Catholics have only a few kids. Many fine Catholics have found blessed marriages after their first attempt at marriage failed, and an annulment was sought. But, to paraphrase Jesus’ words about celibacy from the Gospels, those who are in a position to accept a large family should seriously consider doing it! It is a blessing that will revitalize our culture.