A Life Of Charity, A Life Dedicated To Justice, And Not The Mere Generation Of Life, Is The Christian’s Duty

A Life Of Charity, A Life Dedicated To Justice, And Not The Mere Generation Of Life, Is The Christian’s Duty September 27, 2011

It sometimes seems that for a Catholic family to prove their fidelity to the Church, they must have large families. They promote themselves and their Catholic identity by saying how many children they have had.  Anything but a large family is seen, by some, as proof of sin. Even though salvation history shows how this attitude often has hurt some of the holiest people in history (such as Sts. Joachim and Anne), this attitude comes up again and again, constantly causing emotional pain to those who are faithful and yet looked upon with suspicion.  Is it any wonder some even get so caught up in this desire to procreate at all costs that they end up using illegitimate means to create life? What is often seen as a promotion of the pro-life agenda, that one should be open for life, ends up being used to judge others: you don’t have children, so you must not be open to them. Because of this judgmental attitude, a good (the promotion of life) is abused in such a way that it leads to the reverse, the destruction of so much life. Not only are so many families destroyed by the gossip surrounding them, but many others give in to the demands and think they must have children by any means possible.  Science has provided the means by which many can indeed have many children, but the process is more than unnatural, but requires the conception of many children, many who will be sacrificed and killed, so that one or two might live.

We need to stop thinking the size of one’s family (or lack of family) necessarily indicates anything about one’s faithfulness.

We must really be open to God, and God’s grace. We must even recognize that sometimes a large family is not in itself a good thing.  “Many people have children to their own harm, and many are without them for their own good.”[1] Not everyone is called to have children, and having them often leads to all kinds of worldly affairs, making sure one can have all the financial backing necessary for such a large family. In other words, parents must secure wealth for their family, and in doing so, ignore the requirements of true spiritual wealth, leaving children a bad moral legacy:

 Although this is not universal, there are very many who condemn their children’s souls to eternal poverty while they store up too much treasure for them on earth. Because they want to leave their children rich in this world by robbery and fraud, they not only neglect to distribute alms but also try to seize their neighbor’s wealth. It is to be feared that although their children abound in their riches in this world, they themselves will be destroyed by eternal punishment.[2]

The more children one has, the more one wants to make sure they are financially secure, and the more likely one is to engage questionable money-making practices, justifying any deviation from the moral good as necessary because of the needs of their children. So many ignore the lack of social justice for others while having large families and placing all kinds of demands on society through them.  They do not understand that with more children, they still have social responsibilities. A wicked economic system which ignores universal justice is not acceptable just because one can make it rich in such a system. Just because some can find success does not mean the system itself actually promotes success. It is for this reason, many who try to promote themselves as good Catholics because of the size of their families are anything but good Catholics; appearances are one thing, but their alignment with unjust social policies indicates the reverse.  Many of the most libertarian of Catholics, the most unsocially just among Catholics, have the largest families and align themselves with the most unCatholic of political agendas. They promote themselves and their lack of social justice by saying they defend life: “Look at me, I have a lot of children, which proves I am pro-life.” But that is no excuse, and their lack of charity is going to hurt not only themselves, but their children. Their lack of respect for the life of others, for the human dignity of others and their suffering indicates they are not pro-life. If they loved their children, they would fear how bad their example in the world is going to be for the spiritual health of their children. They might try to suggest they are good, charitable Catholics. They might say something like, “Look, I make great amounts of money, it is true, but I also give a great amount back to charity” and use that as an excuse. Those who have more have more responsibility toward social justice, not less. The fact that they take more out of the system and give some (but very little, all things considered) back only points out that they know they are a hypocrite. Just like their large family, this is just an appearance created to deceive others and gain their applause. God is not fooled. God will not be mocked.  “But I ask you, brethren, where is the justice in a man insultingly giving God money in almsgiving while handing his soul over to the Devil in avarice? In the money he offers God the image of the emperor, but in himself he gives the Devil the image of God.”[3]

A large family can be a means of using the resources of the world better. Many learn how to be frugal and share with others by having more immediate family members with them. In this way, for many, a large family can be a good, and it can teach charity. A large family in and of itself is not indicative of people of ill will, just as a couple with few or no children should not be seen as a couple who lives in sin. We can’t rely upon appearances. That is what hypocrites do. Instead, we must seek, wherever we are, in whatever situation we are in, to live for God, in charity, looking for the welfare not only of our own families, but all humanity, seeking the betterment of all. Only then do we properly hold the Christian life.

[1] St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 51 in St. Caesarius of Arles Sermons 1 – 50. Trans. Sister Mary Magdeline Mueller, O.S.F. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), 257.

[2] Ibid., 257.

[3] St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 32 in St. Caesarius of Arles Sermons 1 – 50. Trans. Sister Mary Magdeline Mueller, O.S.F. (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956),  159.

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  • Liam

    Oh dear, Henry, you really askin’ for it, ain’t you? You know you’ll be nitpicked to death about the reality of this attitude in our world…..

    • Perhaps, but, after reading through many sermons of St Caesarius the last few weeks, I wanted to bring this topic up. I thought today (St Vincent de Paul) would be a good day to do it.

  • digbydolben

    You really ARE asking for it: the cult of the family and of the “Theology of the Body” really IS about all that is left of American Catholicism, what with the scorn heaped upon celibacy and the monastic life, as a result of the pedophile scandals of the corrupt hierarchy.

    • I would disagree with this “being what is left of American Catholicism.” I do know it is what one finds within a certain subsection of American Catholics, and they often try to portray themselves as the real Catholics ™, but just because they act like that does not mean they are.

  • Mark Gordon

    It’s true, Henry. My wife and I have only two children, for reasons that are no one’s business, but we’ve often been made to feel somehow less Catholic than families with more. I was once engaged on this topic by a particularly self-righteous mother of six. The conversation went like this:

    “Your wife has had miscarriages?”
    “No. Why do you ask?”
    “I would expect people like you to have more kids.”
    “What do you mean, ‘people like us?'”
    “Well, you’re such faithful Catholics otherwise.”
    “This is really none of your business.”
    “Oh, sorry. You should adopt.”

    • Yes, I know it with a lot of married Catholics; it is also something many single Catholics also face. “Why aren’t you married? What’s wrong with you? What are you doing? Are you living in sin?” Etc. So many think if you are not religious (or a priest), then you will get married and have lots of children if you are a good Catholic.

      • walt

        As a single 40 something Catholic man. Thank-you for saying this. Adult singles do get this treatment frequently.

  • Thales

    And on the other side of the coin, if you and your spouse have more than 2 children, or if you are single and not living with your boyfriend/girlfriend, many times you’re made to feel as if you are crazy, repressed, or unenlightened.

    We live in a world of sinful and judgmental busybodies, regardless of their religious or non-religious background.

    • Thales

      I should add that I’d hope that Christians would know better than to act this way, but I think we all know that they often turn out to be the worst sinners (myself included!)

  • Melody

    I totally agree that the size of one’s family should not be a litmus test of one’s Catholic credentials. It is simply no one else’s business. Nor should it be assumed that a couple with one or two children “must have used something artificial”. The science behind NFP is sound. But a lot of people seem to think if you’re really using it right, it shouldn’t work very well. Neither should we feel free to comment in negative ways if someone has many children.
    Your quote, “Many people have children to their own harm, and many are without them for their own good” is true. I am thinking especially of situations where the parents found out that they carry genes for something like Tay-Sachs. Maybe they are called to adopt, maybe not.We are called to be supportive of one another’s families whether large or small; they are what they are.

    • St. Caesarius, of course, did not know about genetics, but you are right, for those who cannot, one thing they could do is adopt (if they want children), and it would be a profound act of charity.

  • agellius

    Yes, people are often judgmental. Sometimes they’re even judgmental towards those who are judgmental. : )

    • Mark Gordon

      And they are often judgmental toward those who are judgmental toward the judgmental.

      When it comes to families, we should all suspend self-righteous judgments, from whatever perspective.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    Thank you. It is amazing how Catholic culture has changed in a mere twenty-five years. You are describing a cultural aspect I was not even aware of. I think there is no other proper descriptive term for what you are sketching here than “fundamentalist.” I am sad for Catholic culture which I was once a part of. Your desire to be critical of it is very worthwhile and good for your faith community surely.

  • Henry
    Excellent piece. What stunned me was reading several long NFP issue comboxes on Catholic blogs where women with only two children were subjected to gossipy comments like Mark described. In the big cities, I suspect this rarely happens but in small towns and rural areas, I’ll bet it’s a disease. Oddly and unknown to most Catholics, three major Fathers saw large families as Jewish not Christian: Augustine in “The Good of Marriage”; Jerome in “Against Jovinianus”; and Chrysostom in sermons….Jerome thought the earth was too full but all three seemed to have thought the end of the world was somewhat imminent. Oddly Augustine and Jerome were very against contraception at the same time as admiring smaller families….ergo they envisioned a lot of abstaining which Fr. Bernard Haring pointed out is not what is recommended by God in I Cor.7:5 ( Haring dissented on HV).

    • Bill,

      While I respect much of what many trying to engage NFP say and do, I am often stunned with what I read in comboxes as well. It’s, of course, not just there; I’ve seen aspects of it lived out in churches (being involved with smaller parishes, even in big cities, one can find such gossip happening; I’m sure it happens in larger parishes as well, but it is easier for such families to be subsumed by the rest of the parish and keep to themselves).

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you Henry!

    While I hope to have a large family, even my current situation (2 kids and one on the way) tempts me to pile up treasures. Of course, one does need to pay off student loans and save for a house etc., but one must always be one one’s guard when others depend on one financially. It is an impediment to freedom for sure. I have great respect for those whose large families enable them to live simple and detached lives.

    And yes, we must never presume things of smaller families. You have articulated several good reasons for this. Here is one more: those who have smaller families against their own wishes due to struggles with infertility suffer greatly when judged to be ‘less Catholic.’ How many women who have suffered miscarriages have showed up at the TOB or homeschooling conferences and felt the pressure to announce how many children they have “in heaven” in order to fit in?