Catholic Families, NFP, and the Upcoming Synod
Patheos is hosting a symposium on the upcoming Synod on the Family and blogger Calah Alexander has some frank, honest points about the Church’s teaching on procreative generosity in practice. It’s worth reading.
Even so, what rankles the most is never the lack of material help. I don’t expect the Church to pick up the bill for all the kids she says I should welcome. I do, however, expect the Church to welcome them as well. And that is something I almost never see.
The reality is that obedience costs a young couple something — sometimes it feels like it costs us everything. But it seems to cost the larger Church nothing. So little valued is our obedience and the sacrifice it entails that most Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches on contraception. They’ve never heard it from the pulpit. If they do hear it, they jeer and mock, because the prospect of life without contraception seems so impossible that it’s frankly ludicrous. Equally ludicrous are those who embrace it, willingly or no. We are targets of scorn and derision, while the Church stands silently by and watches us suffer to uphold her teaching. Sometimes she even joins in the fray, building “cry rooms” to put us undesirable, multiplying masses out of sight and out of mind; providing nurseries so our children can in fact NOT come to Christ, but be put aside so the grown-ups can come to Christ in peace and quiet; interrupting homilies to ask mothers to leave the Mass with their babies, since the babies are disturbing the rest of the parishioners; in short, treating us as second-class citizens for the crime of actually obeying her teachings.
I’ve made no secret that NFP “doesn’t work for us.” In this article from last summer, I confessed that we conceived 3 children in the space of 5 years of marriage. As of this moment, I’m bouncing baby #4 in my lap, strapped up in a baby harness hanging from my shoulders, trying to urge her to sleep. That’s right. 4 kids in 6 years. I guess I wrote my article too soon.
4 kids in 6 years. Nope, NFP doesn’t work for us. Except that it does. Every single time we’ve conceived – every time, including #4 – its been in spite of ourselves. It’s not that we don’t want kids. We’ve always wanted them. Tons of them. The timing has just been off a bit with each, even when we were kinda ready and hoping in the back of our minds for #3. It’s not NFP’s failure, it’s ours. And from that failure, a multitude of lessons in generosity. From those lessons, a genuine hatred for contraceptives. Calah talks about the temptation to give up NFP. My wife and I aren’t in danger of giving up on NFP. You could gift wrap a basket of contraceptives right in the middle of our bedspread and it wouldn’t be even a remote occasion of sin. That’s not to say we’re sinless, far from it, but we would practice NFP even if the Church allowed contraception. We hate contraceptives. We love generosity.
Unfortunately, the article is dead on about the shaming in the Church, about how there is no support from lay people, church employees, and many priests. With the exception of the occasional grandmother who, in a slip into delusion, applauds us on our children’s behavior at Mass, most of what large-familied faithful receive is stares and suggestions to use the cry room – which is, by the way, already taken up by all the adults late for Mass, leaning back in their jean shorts and paging through the bulletin, leaving standing room only for parents-of-many-children who are trying to get the most they can out of Mass and would die to have a seat to lean back on while kneeling at the consecration and holding a squirming toddler simultaneously. (Not that I speak from experience or anything.)
The purpose of the upcoming synod on the family is to better evangelize the family and better evangelize about the family to the culture at large, so let’s talk about evangelization.
More than 2 years ago, when this blog first started to hit the mainstream Catholic blogosphere because of our coverage of the contraception mandate, I begged our bishops to take the crisis as an opportunity to teach boldly the Catholic doctrine on family, on the importance of generous childbearing, and on the evils of contraception and the goodness of natural family planning. That plea has been largely ignored. NFP-practicing couples could have used the support and contracepting couples could have used the salvation. Why do so many leaders in the Church ignore this issue?
It’s all a matter of image. So many Church leaders care more about how they’re seen than Whom they show. I get the sense that quite a few folks in the Church don’t have a problem with *other people* using NFP, as long as they use it to be stingy and not generous. For a lot of folks, families that use NFP and have “too many” kids make the Church look bad to outsiders, and for that, they aren’t being good Catholics. It’s nonsense, of course, just like its nonsense that I’m a bad Catholic father for not caring so much about my toddler’s minor interruptions at Mass. As much as one might argue that my orthodox practice of my faith makes the faith unattractive, difficult, laughably impractical to outsiders, and therefore unevangelizing, I would argue that to evangelize a mediocre gospel of compromise with the world is not to evangelize at all. In the end, the embarrassing difficulty of being a parent to many children, even if the family is as dysfunctional as Jacob’s, only demonstrates the greatness of Christian love that embraces so great a cross. And that love is the heart of evangelization. Given time and a fair shake, it will make more converts, not fewer. We NFP-users aren’t the enemy of evangelization. We should be encouraged, rather than shunned, to be images of the Holy Trinity, of divine, self-sacrificing love.
As for the Church, I guess we’d just like her leaders to show the same generosity to our kids that the Church expects us to show in our procreation.
Gotta go now. I’ve been bouncing baby #4 to sleep and she’s finally asleep.