Ask an infertile Catholic couple when a family begins and they will tell you the date on which they were married. Everything after that can only be categorized as growth.
But not all Catholics seem to champion this concept as much. Why is that? What is it about having children that makes a family more real or more Catholic? I'm beginning to believe that the decline of the family is, in part, due to this pervasive disbelief of when a family is "born". It's disordered to proclaim that a family begins at any time other than at the moment of marriage. What God has joined...
Are we really protecting Catholic families when we define them by the number of children they have produced? I can see where it could easily be a source of joyful pride to count the blessings of many children in a marriage. It's a dream I've had for my own life and my own marriage for many years - in fact, a dream I had long before I even married. But it seems like a way to disenfranchise and distance yourself from the true definition of marriage and from all who don't or can't enjoy the reality of many living children in their own family. Tell me - how many times have you heard a "good Catholic family" defined as one who occupies an entire pew length to themselves? I can't even keep count anymore. I'd actually offer that being a "good Catholic family" is now a euphemism for being a large family, with many children to its ranks. It seems to me that the essence of family is lost when its very definition is perverted to only mean or embody the extreme far end of the spectrum of fruitfulness that a marriage can enjoy. And while children are indeed a great blessing (ask any Catholic married couple, and I assume they would agree - since their very vows include welcoming children joyfully from God)....children aren't the only fruit of marriage. Good Catholic families sometimes have no children. And those families are remarkably fruitful. And they serve God in their openness to life in all kinds of ways. And I imagine my Heavenly Father being quite pleased with the entire lot of families that lack children in the same way as He is pleased by the lot of families that have any number of children.
I don't think anyone can protect or build up the concept of family (Catholic or not) by using examples of number to describe or explain goodness. It's actually a rather reductionist way of looking at family, if you ask me. It's like saying that there is room for every flower in God's kingdom except the infertile one.
The base unit of *any* family is always a married couple. If life begins at conception, then a family begins at sacramental marriage. It is a complete gift, right from the moment of its creation.
Many might ask: how exactly would you be able to visually pick out a couple at church who have lost 6 children and distinguish them from the couple occupying the entire pew in front of them with their 6 children? One couple are parents many times over...and so is the other. If we believe that life begins at conception, these families must be equal in gifts.
There is no "but" or "still" in this explanation. Both couples represent Catholic families.
And yet if infertility is something that sacramentally married Catholic couples encounter with each other, then that must mean that God's intentions for a fruitful marriage *also* include those who are infertile. In fact, there is no difference between the couple occupying their entire pew and a newlywed couple sitting in front of them, or the family of two that lost 6 souls sitting behind them, or the family on the other side of the sanctuary that was built through the unique gift of adoption, for that matter. They all represent Catholic family life. There is nothing diminished or multiplied by any of them.
Yes, children are a blessing. And if you ask any Catholic couple, they are a blessing worthy of great sacrifice. But they do not define or create a good Catholic family. We need to remember - out loud - to each other - and shared amongst our own families and friends - that God's Greatness and Glory lives in the sacrament of making a family on the day that a Catholic couple are joined together in marriage.
Everything after that is growth.