By Laura Prejean
Though speaking from altitudes upward of 40,000 feet while on a return flight from a visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis spoke of the sacrament of marriage not with the elevated language of a sophisticated theologian, but rather with commonplace diction. He attempted to relieve the misconception “that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits” in terms of reproduction.
This quote, like so many since the start of his pontificate, has received both cheers and criticism. Was it appropriate? Is not the point of marriage to raise a family? Does the church not want large, strong Catholic families? While all of these questions prove applicable, I think any discussion regarding this subject should also involve the next part of Pope Francis’ interview: “No. Responsible paternity, that is clear.” It is here where the true theme of the pope’s statement is found.
Whether they have one child or seven, parents’ role is to do all in their power to provide a safe and God-filled home for their family, regardless of how large that family is. The Church, while divinely ordained and called to be the Kingdom of God on earth, does reside in this temporal world. It is for this reason that Christ declares in Matthew 22:21, “then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Though we are not made for this world alone, it is within this world that we live, with a fervent hope of the world to come. With this world comes responsibility, both to ourselves and to our neighbors. Our neighbors begin not with those people who live across the street, but first with those who share the same living room. It is for this reason that Pope Francis, seemingly with no hesitation, asserted the responsibility of the parent, leaving only his controversial simile up for debate.
A parent’s responsibility lies not only in fulfilling a sacramental call, but also in providing sustenance, care and attention. The Church aids families with these responsibilities, with a youth group-sponsored “Mothers’ Night Out,” a children’s Sunday school or a soup kitchen. Support like this provides a system for Natural Family Planning so parents can be able to responsibly raise their families.
Coming from a family with only two children, which some at UD may consider to be miniature, I am unable to speak from personal experience of the joy of a large family: its constant activity, having a pew to call your own at Mass on Sundays, or having enough people to play a football game on any given Saturday morning. I can, however, still speak of the love within my small family of four and the Catholic identity that we too strive to attain.
I cannot claim to understand the responsibility of parents; the difficulty to provide in a struggling economy; the confusion of birth control; or the pressure from the in-laws for grandkids. However, in his call for “responsible paternity,” Pope Francis is calling for more than the unity of parents through their shared role as caregivers. Rather, he is calling on us all as members of humanity to love one another, whether from our families of 10 or of four. A marriage does not come with a right to have children or with an obligation to have many, but rather with a newfound responsibility to be open to love – in God, in each other and in the children that parents must prudently choose to bring into the world. And anyway, all seriousness aside, Jesus was an only child.