Be Fruitful, Multiply

We’re having a baby. Number Five is due in July. I know what you’re thinking—nobody has that many kids anymore mister.

Well, you’re wrong. Plenty do. The Hennesseys are friendly with quite a few families with more—sometimes many more—than five. In the crowd we run with, five players is a mid-sized roster.

I’m one of four. Back in the eighties, having four kids made our family the biggest on the block. Few of my friends had more than a sibling or two.

Now, four passengers is considered a sold-out flight.

In previous generations, though, even four wasn’t considered much. My mother was one of seven. My friend Nancy Grimm of St. Theresa’s Parish in Trumbull, Connecticut, is the youngest of eight. Her husband Leon is one of 17.

These days, large families prompt questions.

“How will you send them all to college?”

“Where will they all sleep?”

“How many refrigerators do you have?”

“What about individual attention?”

“Don’t you forget their names?”

Baked into these inquiries is an assumption: No family can love and provide for more than a certain number of children—and that number is certainly fewer than four or five. Unless you have unlimited resources, someone is going to get cheated.

This is balderdash.

Money doesn’t raise kids, love does, and love is not a finite resource. Happiness is not a pie of ever-thinner slices. Parenting is not a zero-sum game.

“Behold,” says King Solomon in Psalm 127, “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” When we open our hearts to the gift of life, our reward is infinite, just as His love for us is limitless and everlasting.

Unhappiness comes from closing our hearts to this heritage. We fall down when we substitute our own judgement for His.

Remember when Pope Francis said we don’t need to breed like rabbits to be good Catholics? It got a lot of press. Much of it misinterpreted his point. What didn’t get any press was his clarification.

“Healthy families are essential to the life of society,” he said. “It provides us with consolation and hope to see so many large families who welcome children as a gift from God.”

I tell the young people I work with to get married and start having children as soon as possible. It’s not a popular message. It’s like telling them to eat more carbs.

They want to get their careers going before starting down the family path. They want fun now; responsibility later.

“You’ll never have enough money and you’ll never have the right job,” I tell them. “Besides, having kids is fun. It’s the most fun, fulfilling job there is. You won’t even think of it as a job.”

Like I said, it’s a hard sell.

Some say that having too many kids is selfish. All we are is a tax on the earth, according to this outlook. All we do is consume, pollute, steal, and go to war with each other. Homo sapiens should do the world a favor and just go extinct already.

I don’t share this view, divorced as it is from human reason and Christian revelation. We should be responsible stewards of creation. Of course we should. But we shouldn’t worship it.

That path has been tried and found wanting.

We Catholics used to be known for our large families. It was a living symbol of our commitment to the purpose of marriage. These days, sadly, even many faithful Catholics think of large families as a relic of the past.

I hope that is changing. We’re doing our bit, anyway. Pray for us.

From the May 2016 issue of Fairfield County Catholic

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