For the past twenty years my life has been surrounded by children. As a mother of eight God continues to teach me much through them. Children make us better people. They keep us grounded and prevent us from becoming self-absorbed. From the first moment of that dreaded early pregnancy sickness we learn to sacrifice our own comfort for another. They challenge us and have an immense capacity for unconditional love and forgiveness.
Children have an ability to evoke the strongest emotions in us – intense love, protectiveness, annoyance, and impatience. How much we can learn from children! They make us keenly aware of both our strengths and our weaknesses. Being in their company is good for us. We are challenged to forget ourselves and put their needs first
One of my favourite images of Jesus is a sketch of him laughing heartily surrounded by children. The picture shows him with a little smiling boy on his knee while another hugs his neck from behind. I love contemplating this image as it is exactly as I understand Jesus to be around children: playful, loving and right in the middle of things.
As children how easily our hearts and minds open up to the reality of God’s love for us and to our true identity as His beloved sons and daughters. Jesus elevated children, famously chiding his apostles from preventing them coming to him after a very long day of public ministry.
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mathew 19:14).
I was just nineteen years old when a family friend who was also a Christian brother handed me an audio cassette tape called ‘Contraception, why not’ by a professor Janet E Smith. It was certainly an odd title but as she was a sociologist and this was my area of study at university I was immediately interested. It was an intriguing talk, factual, compelling and even entertaining. I was completely convinced after hearing her sixty minute presentation that Church teaching on human life was both progressive and prophetic. As the years passed and I encountered the many myths, inaccuracies, and open hostility to this area of Church teaching I am so grateful to that family friend for simply handing me that little tape which provided such clarity on this important area at such a young age.
Being pro-life is not about having baby after baby. It is about both generosity and responsibility. It is about taking the time to get to know our God given biology as men and women and working with nature rather than against it. It is about a healthy respect for the gift of procreation and exercising discernment and prudence within our own particular circumstances. It is also about not judging other couples whether they have one child or ten!
Yet in today’s ailing culture a horrible mindset has taken hold. A mindset which deems large families as irresponsible. Welcoming children into this world is no longer viewed as a blessing and a privilege but a choice that we must control at all costs. If that child is diagnosed in the womb with a disability that choice is extended in many countries up to the point of birth. With the advent of new ‘designer baby’ techniques and three person embryos the ability to exercise control over new human life has reached disturbing new levels. At a time when materialism and medical advances are at an all-time high, the most basic of children’s rights are at an all-time low. As well as taking away the very right to life from children in the womb some countries have decided that born children don’t even have the right to know the identity of their natural mother or father.
This obsession with controlling new life has permeated deep into our culture and our communities. When I was in hospital having my last baby word quickly spread that I was having number eight. I was a constant source of bewilderment and pity. I mean I seemed normal enough but what on earth was wrong with me? Eight children in this day and age!
What is it about children that has become so threatening to our adult world? How have they become the target of countless laws and policies which are determined to control and even extinguish their existence when they are at their most vulnerable? This beautiful gift of new human life has been rejected, demeaned, and exploited under the guise of choice and compassion.
The so-called progressives of our age in their pursuit of radical adult centred ideologies have ironically stripped children of the most basic rights of all. The right to be born once conceived and the right where possible to a mother and father’s love are now dependent on adult choice and protected in law in many supposedly developed countries.
In the developing world it is children that continue to be the greatest casualties of war, famine, and disease. As pope Francis pointed out “In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children.” (Pope Francis 2013)
And yet the paschal mystery at the heart of Christianity holds up a radical and countercultural message. One that shows us that true happiness comes from giving of ourselves and putting our own needs second place. We were made in the image and likeness of God who in Jesus showed us all the true meaning of sacrificial love.
This is the narrow path that Jesus invites us to climb as his followers. To serve rather than be served. This is how we discover our true identity as children of God and find true peace.
Despite the many challenges and even chaos children can bring us, our love for them gives us plenty of opportunity to climb further up that narrow path. Whether we are a sleep deprived new parent or working overtime to pay the mortgage. Whether it is struggling to monitor a fourteen year old’s screen time or debate a curfew with a sixteen year old. We need endless amounts of patience and perseverance. Most of all though we need to be praying parents actively seeking God’s intervention in our children’s lives. And ultimately we need to be trusting parents who know that despite the wrong choices our children may make, and despite our own shortcomings, our efforts and prayers are never wasted. We entrust their lives to our heavenly Father who knows and loves each child, uniquely, and passionately.
In this 50 year anniversary of the publication of Humane Vitae, we need honestly to reflect upon and share with renewed vigour and clarity the beauty and wisdom of Church teaching on openness to new life and the immense gift that children are to our broken humanity.