October 27, 2013 by lucieromarin
So, there was a post about how babies are a reward from God. Don’t follow the link if you struggle with childlessness – it will hurt. The writer asked his readers if they’d like to have lots of children, with the result that some replied “Yes, but I’m infertile, so thanks for rubbing it in my face,” while others cried, “This post is not about infertility! Don’t be mean to him!”
I’ll admit that, upon being confronted with a photograph of ‘my blessed vista at supper every night,’ my inner melancholic cried, “Wah!” while my outer choleric saw a bold primary colour that isn’t blue. Still…I know the post was never meant to be wounding, and the only problem with it was that it was really multiple articles smushed into one. Yes, it’s hard to believe that someone could ask close to 40,000 subscribers if they’d like children without guessing that a number this large would most certainly include the unmarried, the infertile, those mourning the deaths of children, and the disappointed…but it’s not that hard, if you bear in mind that someone buried beneath a mound of work doesn’t have much time for a second draft.
Having said that, let me say this:
1. There are limits to the value of quoting the Old Testament with reference to children being a reward. Yes, sons are a heritage and your wife shall be as a fruitful vine etc etc but this leads to the obvious question of what we are to make of those who have not been blessed with children. You can’t quote these passages and expect a reader to forget that barrenness was, actually, at that time, a real sign of God’s displeasure. How could this be so – and why has it changed? For it has changed – Catholic women are not taught to consider childlessness a ‘reproach’, as St Elizabeth described her own barrenness.
You have to remember that these words were inspired during that period of salvation history when true religion required you to be born of the right tribe. Blood ties and salvation were inextricably linked. While it was more about being born to the right parents than it was about having children, and while I’m not saying that children were the equivalent of grace, I am saying that family was in some way analagous to grace. This is why children could be a reward and barrenness a reproach back then, and it’s also why this is no longer so. The true faith is no longer tribal. The true Church has Gentiles in it – lots and lots of them. When the woman cried out to Our Lord ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the paps that gave thee suck,’ and He replied, ‘Blessed, rather, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it,’ He hadn’t had a slip of the memory and forgotten the words of the Archangel Gabriel; He wasn’t saying that His mother was unimportant, but He was introducing the idea of a blessedness, other than – and in some ways superior to – biological motherhood. When He said that those who do the will of God are his mothers and brothers and sisters, He wasn’t saying that natural family doesn’t matter (I mean, He chose His own cousins to be His Precursor and His Apostles!) but He was preparing His hearers for the idea of a supernatural family – family by grace, rather than by blood.
The Cross changed everything. Illness, these days, is not only no longer a curse, but a participation in the suffering of Christ. The cursed of the Old Covenant are the jewels and the treasures of the New. (I’m not being poetic here: St Laurence called the poor and the sick his treasures; Blessed John Paul II called the sick ‘the jewels of the Church.’)
All this is why we call priests and religious ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’, despite the non-existence of their biological children. For us, that the-having-of-children remains a blessing, but the not-having-of-them does not remain a curse. This is why Catholic piety now uses expressions such as, “May God reward you with His choicest graces,” rather than, “May God reward you with many sons.” Now that our family is borne of the waters of baptism, and our brothers and sisters are all those in a state of grace, we still love babies as much as we ever did, and we still recognise that each child is a blessing, but we no longer ascribe them to the virtue of their parents.
So, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if God denies you a blessing, it’s only and ever for the sake of another blessing. It’s not because He thinks you’re less Catholic than your friends.
2. Okay, as my reward for being so charitable, I get to say this: true, ‘happiness’ and ‘happens’ share an etymological root, but it means ‘fortunate’, which isn’t what people mean when they ‘too often’ talk about happiness these days. (Yes, I admit that this is a very, very minor point, but I have an unpronounceable medical condition which loosely translates as ‘reacts strongly to uses of the words ‘linguistic root.”)
3. I hope that, one day, the points about the trials endured by large families will been given their own post. They deserved it – the comments left by some readers were extraordinary – and it behooves the single-and-woeful amongst us to remember that our brethren-in-vocations have trials of their own. Seriously, what kind of drongo goes up to a complete stranger and offers unsolicited and entirely judgmental opinion about their children? (Unless their children are climbing the walls and throwing rocks, of course, in which case, I say, offer away!)