Saturday, October 4, 2014

Good Catholic Families

Ask a Catholic when life begins and they will invariably tell you conception. They will detail the fertilization process that occurs between the male and female gamete, resulting in a distinctly and genetically unique human being that is both related to its mother and its father. They will tell you that everything after that moment can only be categorized as growth. But life begins at conception. Catholics agree on that.

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.


  1. Love! Thank you for writing this! You hit the nail on the head!

  2. Excellent! Really well written.

  3. Amen!! A theme near and dear to my heart :)

  4. Beautiful! And so well written!

  5. Wonderfully and perfectly said. My own family grew the day I married my amazing hubby of 20 years. On that day I gained the treasure of men and women who continue to bless my life each day!

  6. So many Catholic couples who struggle from infertility or loss are beginning to speak out. Thank you! I also wrote something about these struggles recently:

  7. Great post! Our language needs to change to reflect this truth. .

  8. This was an excellent post to read. Thank-you!

  9. Thank you!!!! Ive found myself in the past saying "Good Catholic Family" in reference to a large family, but now it makes me cringe. Totally agree with you.

  10. Yes, yes, YES! Thank you! I've been saying to almost everyone I meet, a family begins on a couple's wedding day. PERIOD. I even made a pin on Pinterest with that written on it. I went to a wedding 2 weeks ago where the couple kept saying that they couldn't wait to start a family... and I kept cringing thinking A) THEY'RE ALREADY A FAMILY and B) they don't even know yet if children are going to come to them. This message needs spreading.

  11. Thanks for your comment on my old post with nearly-the-same name. As you said over at my blog, it is indeed a timeless subject and a timeless thought, but one that has not been written or talked about nearly enough. Beautifully stated.

    If any of your readers would like a chance at a free copy of my book, After Miscarriage, I have a contest going on right now on my blog. It ends on Friday -- just wanted you to know!