Imprimi Potest: John N. McCormick, C.SS.R., Provincial, St. Louis Province, Redemptorist Fathers, 23rd September 1957.
Imprimatur: Joseph E. Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis, St. Louis, 24h September 1957.
It is not without risk that a priest writes on a subject of this kind. He knows before he touches pencil to paper, that many a wife will brush aside everything he says with the words, "If he had to bear the children he wouldn't talk so glibly about having many." He knows that many a husband will shrug off the central theme of his article by saying, "If he had to support a large family, he would sing a different tune."
Yet this article has to be written. It has to be written in answer to the thundering propaganda that worldly people and fallen-away Catholics are constantly aiming at all married folk today. "Beware of a large family," they say. "Don't be so foolish as to have more than three or four children. Even if you have to live in a habit of sin for ten or twenty years, that is better than having a large family."
That is phrasing it rather bluntly, but it is essentially what the world thinks of a really large family. In answer to it, we must say two things: first, that anything, even the largest of families is better than a single moral sin, to say nothing of a long indulged habit of mortal sin; second, that even if one's family could be kept small without any danger of serious sin, there are many important reasons that favour the desire for a large family.
Nowhere in what follows will it be said that it is easy to have and to rear a large family. But, then, nothing worthwhile in life is easy. It is not easy, to be a good priest, a foreign missionary, a chastely living person in the world. So it is not easy for the married to have many children and to raise them all well.
Just because it is not easy, and because the world around them keeps expressing its horror over large families, a threefold danger assails every Catholic who enters marriage. The first is that he will have a fixed notion at the time of his marriage that he won't be able to stand having more than two or three children; the second is that after he has two or three children, he will not be able to resist the sin of contraception; the third is that, if he has a large family, he will become the victim of self-pity, which will make him the worst kind of parent to the children who need him.
To avert as many tragedies as possible, let's consider three things.
"Large" is a relative word in this connection. For some, three or four children make a large family, because that is all the children God permits them to have. Some couples have five children, perhaps in rapid succession, and then, for some reason known only to God, no more. (Judgement Day will reveal many couples who practised contraception for twenty years to avoid a sixth child, when God would never have sent them the sixth child anyway.) Some couples have gravely sufficient, at times even obligatory, reasons for practising continence or rhythm after they had two or three children, as, for example, when the wife has become an invalid or has been disabled by serious disease.
Thus it is never right to say of any long married couple who have few children that they did not desire more, or that they limited their families by the sin of contraception. At the same time it is advisable for those to whom God grants only two or three children to let close relatives and friends know that they wanted more, at least that they would never sinfully keep from having more.
The reason for this last statement is that it must be realistically admitted that countless married couples, many of them Catholic in profession, have through horror of a large family adopted the habit of birth-prevention. Some brag about limiting their families in this way. Some don't brag about it, but they receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church sacrilegiously in their sins. Some give up God and the true Church and the Mass and the sacraments and heaven because they will not risk having a large family.
Those who can have a large family, and who do not want to join the ranks of the rebels thus described, should face boldly, first, the reasons the world offers them for not having a large family, and then, the reasons for disregarding the opinions and propaganda of the world, with the result that they will both desire and welcome a reasonably large family. For a couple that marries in their early twenties, and who meet with no grave obstacle in having and raising children, this would mean a family of any number from eight to twelve children. In approximately twenty-five years of fertility, this would not be too much for them to desire, to expect and to rear properly.
Before considering the powerful arguments in favour of a large family, every married couple should face squarely and fearlessly the arguments that will arise out of their own fallen nature and out of the secularism all around them against having more than a few children. Answers to these arguments should be some of the deepest convictions of their souls.
All the arguments against having a large family centre around five points. They are these, with comments on each one.
A large family costs too much.
This is an important argument for those who love money above all things, and who cannot stand to be deprived of any of the nice things that money buys for their neighbours. We are not saying there are no times when lack of money and deep indebtedness do not constitute a reason for using innocent means to delay having a child for a while. But for many, the love of money and luxury is the big reason for not wanting many children.
Of course it costs money to have children. Doctor's care for the wife, confinement and delivery, food and clothing for each new child all costs money. The question is could anything better be done with money?
A large family hurts the wife too much.
Yes, there is the unpleasantness of the nine months of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, the need for recuperating strength after each baby is born. And there is the bugaboo raised by many that having many children wears a woman out before she reaches middle age.
The question is: Are the inconveniences and pain connected with bearing and raising children out of proportion to the end achieved? Every good mother of a large family will say no. And thousands of mothers of such families, now in their fifties and sixties, will belie the statement that bearing many children wears a woman out before her time.
A large family makes it impossible to give all the children an expensive education.
It is only those who have a wrong idea of what constitutes a good education who present this argument. The most important part of a child's education is received in the home. We have never known of any who received a good beginning of education in the home to be deprived of a college or university education later on, if they desired to receive one.
A large family makes impossible the keeping up of a neat, orderly, unscuffed home.
True, with eight or nine children, it will not be possible to keep the home like a showplace, or a model for inspection by others at any time. Whoever lets this consideration influence his or her choice of a large or small family may have a beautiful home; it will never be a truly happy home.
A large family brings ridicule from neighbours, acquaintances, even strangers today.
It is never easy to accept ridicule with patience. Yet a moment's though about this kind of ridicule will make it harmless. The crudest, bluntest, most common form that such ridicule takes is that in which parents of one of two children say of their large-family neighbours, "They breed like animals." But what are the ridiculers doing? They are doing something more vile than even animals would do. They are prostituting their procreative powers to their love of money and comfort and ease.
Before setting down some of the psychological, sociological, moral and spiritual reasons for desiring a large family, let this note be interjected.
The Catholic Church does not command any married couple to have a large family, or to have any children at all. If, after a valid marriage, a husband and wife desire, for the highest spiritual motives such as inspired the Virgin Mother of Christ, to make a vow of virginity, she will approve that vow after due examination of the sincerity of the couple and their ability to keep it. Thus that couple would have no children, and the Church would consider them as doing a greater thing than having children.
Such cases, however, will always be most rare. Ordinarily, when a couple marries, circumstances make it plainly the will of God that they live a normal married life. And in settling down to such a normal married life, it is the thesis of what follows that, barring obstacles that God Himself may permit, they should desire and gladly accept a large family. We repeat that for twenty to thirty years of fertility, this could hardly mean less than eight children, due consideration given to prudent spacing by continence or rhythm.
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Here are eight arguments with which good parents should destroy every reason that the world gives for not having a large family.
Desiring a large family greatly reduces the danger of sin between husband and wife.
Couples who acquire some kind of an obsession against having more than two or three children are almost inevitable victims of the devil's suggestions of birth-prevention. For a Christian, even death is to be preferred to mortal sin. If desiring a large family makes it in any sense easier to live without sin, nothing better could be said in favour of large families.
Having a large family greatly reduces temptations to sin that arise for husband and wife outside the home.
Small families make for much leisure, much social life, many opportunities for temptation outside the home. Being busy with a large family is thus again a marvellous way of keeping out of trouble, indeed, of not even being aware of dangers around one. Many a divorce, many an adultery, would never have happened if those involved had had large families.
Having a large family makes the best possible use of life's most important years.
For only a limited time in their lives can men and women "create" in the truest sense of the word. That is from the day they marry to the time when their mutual fertility is brought to an end by God's design. Twenty to twenty-five years that is about the average fertile time of the average marriage.
During that time the husband may slave to build up a business of his own; the wife may dash about making social conquests and leading other small-family mothers to silly or useful goals. But the best thing, the greatest thing, the most miraculous thing they can do during that time is to bring forth children. That is working with and for God.
Having a large family gives children the best possible atmosphere in which to develop character.
Nothing can take the place of day-to-day companionship with equals, under a wisely watchful and directing authority such as parents wield, to beat down selfishness, to build up charity, to discipline all that is unruly in one's nature. The only child, or the child with but a single brother or sister quite far removed in age, starts life under a handicap that the child of a large family never suffers.
Having a large family eliminates many tendencies of parents to spoil their children.
Realistic parents know that the strong love they have for their children carries with it an inclination to spoil them, to over-indulge them, to under-discipline them. The most effective cure for this tendency is a large family. With many children, the very necessity of spreading one's love makes it less liable to make an egotist out of any child.
Having a large family provides the best possible material for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and the best possibilities for giving the world saints.
Experience and statistics prove this, but it also stands to reason. In a large family, well ruled over by parents, children learn to make sacrifices for others. Out of the small sacrifices demanded in the family circle there grows in the heart of many a child the desire to sacrifice his whole life for others.
There is no sadder thought than this: that many birth-prevention practising parents are depriving the Church and depriving the abandoned souls, depriving them of the priests and sisters who were intended by God to be born of their wedded love.
Having a large family trains children for the best fulfilment of the duties of motherhood and fatherhood in their turn.
Older brothers and sisters become like substitutes for their parents towards the younger children in many things. Thus they learn by experience, under the wise supervision of their parents, how to be good mothers and fathers themselves.
Having a large family brings the richest rewards and blessings to the parents in their middle life and old age.
Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical on marriage referred to this when he said:
"The truly Christian mother will prove herself superior to all the pains, cares and anxieties of her maternal office... and will boast in the Lord of her many-jewelled crown of children."
"Boasting in the Lord" means rejoicing in the Lord, and accepting gratefully from the Lord the innumerable rewards that come on the ageing mother when her children have grown, and her grandchildren gather around her. By contrast, there is no more lonely figure than that of the mother who selfishly and sinfully limits her family to one or two children, who, as not seldom happens, loses those children to death or delinquency before she is old herself.
With all these blessings, there will still be the heartaches and burdens, the worries and the difficulties, the weariness and fatigue, that are inevitable in the rearing of a large family. But nobody escapes these things; they are a part of all life and are true accomplishment. The glorious thing about the heartaches of parents of large families is that they know how richly every sacrifice and pain will be rewarded; they know that they will not have to sit and say to themselves over and over again when they are in their fifties and sixties and seventies: "God gave me twenty years of creative power; I gave Him back only one or two or three, and made sterile all the rest."
Problem: We have eight children and we would not give up one of them for all the comforts in the world. If God wills it, we may have more children. Our problem is how to deal with our relatives and friends who are everlastingly expressing sympathy and even horror over the fact that we have so many children. We are perfectly happy and contented with our lot, and yet we detest being made to appear like martyrs or fools by otherwise good people and even our close friends. What course would you suggest?
Solution: Your problem is not unique; in fact it has been presented to us in many different ways. And far from upsetting you, it should provide occasions for real charity and zeal towards others.
There are two things that you should try to make clear to misguided folks whose sympathy is an obvious sign of disapproval of your large family. The first and most important thing is a rebuke for what almost surely represents their own immoral conviction that birth-control is better than a large family. It is good to be frank and outspoken with married people who tut-tut over your many children. Ask them point-blank if they would recommend birth-prevention as a means of escape from what they think so sad and unfortunate. Ask them boldly whether they themselves practice contraception to evade the burdens of a large family. If the answer is yes, as it often will be, tell them that they are the ones who need pity, because it is infinitely sadder to know people who are living in sin than to see others who are struggling to raise a family of ten or twelve children.
The second thing to make clear is the fact that even from a natural point of view you are contented and happy with your lot. Your aim should be to change their foolish sympathy into envy; to prove to them that they are the ones who are missing out on the best things in life. What the world needs today is a throng of conscientious mothers and fathers who can prove to their friends and neighbours that they are far better off in doing what is right than they could ever be in doing wrong. There are too many who learn to pity themselves because unhappy sinners try to make them feel uncomfortable in leading good lives. Don't let them fool you!
Donald F. Miller, C.SS.R.