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Friday, September 30, 2005

Holy Families

As many have no doubt noticed, I tend to talk a lot about large families. I have one, and I love it, so naturally it is a factor in what I write. Every aspect of my life is in some way colored by the size and shape of my family. Some people admire me for "managing" such a large household, and some respect me for the obviousness of the fact that I do not use birth control; and I'm just insecure enough to accept any kudos I can get. It is hard work managing the needs of teenagers, the activities of an adolescent, and the challenges (O, the challenges!) of a hyperactive toddler.

But none of that will get me into heaven. God isn't counting on fingers and toes to see who gets in and who doesn't, based on uterine occupancy rate. He is looking our faith, rather, and how faithful we have been to it. I believe I will get to heaven, not because I've raised lots of children, but because I love my Lord and try to show it. I believe that God will want me there because we are, as St. Teresa put it, friends, and He hasn't got very many.

The fact is that sanctity is found among His friends in all walks of life. Very holy men and women; very holy singles and marrieds, young and old, fertile and infertile. Abraham only had two offspring, and Sarah one; yet they were holy. They were friends of God. One might note, too, that they did not contracept.

Small families aren't proof of contraception or sin, any more than large families are proof of holiness. Young Karol Wojtyla grew up with just his father after the deaths of his two siblings and his mother. Small family indeed, yet of his life in a family of two he said:

"Day after day I was able to observe the austere way in which he lived. By profession he was a soldier and, after my mother's death, his life became one of constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church. We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary."

And some of you will recall the man who had so many children with his child brides that he could not remember all of their names.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: I am glad that more Catholics are starting to realize and really understand that contraception is wrong; but we must not fall into the trap of assuming that those who have small families are contracepting. We must avoid, too, the mistake of allowing ourselves to accept the stereotype that large families are somehow "holier" or "more Catholic" than small families.

If we really feel the need to gauge our neighbor's fidelity and holiness, we should be aware that we are mere humans, prone to mistakes. But if we still need to gauge, let us at least gauge by such things as evidence of love for God and neighbor.